When incarcerated undocumented immigrants are released from the local jail, they exit through the sally port, where they often have an unfortunate encounter. It’s not unusual that a U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agent will be there waiting for them.
In a July 12 Albemarle-Charlottesville Regional Jail authority board meeting, jail superintendent Martin Kumer said 25 undocumented immigrants were taken from the ACRJ by ICE between July 2017 and June 2018—because staff voluntarily reports those inmates’ release dates to the federal immigration agents.
Nearly 50 community activists showed up at the meeting to protest the board’s decision to continue reporting release dates to ICE, which passed in a 7-3 vote in January.
Local activist Matthew Christensen, the first person to speak during the public comment session at the meeting, called the jail’s voluntary reporting a “crime against humanity,” and others noted how “extremely cruel” it is to report someone who “came to make a better life for themselves and their families.”
These community members had demanded that the board take another vote at its July meeting, which did not happen. Approximately 2,900 people have signed a petition asking the board to stop its voluntary reporting.
“Because this matter was considered and acted on in January and no new substantive information directly relevant to this policy has been presented, there has been no compelling reason to place this matter on the agenda for another vote,” says a July 1 letter signed by Kumer and jail board chair Diantha McKeel, who also sits on the Albemarle County Board of Supervisors.
When undocumented people are taken into the jail and fingerprinted, staff is required by the state to notify ICE. Along with requesting their release dates, ICE has also asked for ACRJ staff to hold undocumented people beyond their release time, which the jail’s authority board voted against in 2017. ICE agents must be present at the time of a person’s release to take them into custody.
When authority board member and City Councilor Wes Bellamy motioned in January to comply with notifying ICE during the fingerprinting process, but nix the voluntary release date reporting, it wasn’t received well. He amended the motion to only voluntarily report release dates for undocumented immigrants with felony or DUI charges, and still lost the vote.
“We are sure members of the community would agree there are individuals who have committed specific crimes that should not be released back into our community,” says the letter from Kumer and McKeel. “It would not be reasonable or realistic to form a community consensus on specifically what crimes those would be.”
A list provided by the jail of the 25 undocumented people from Mexico, Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala hauled off by ICE between July 2017 and last month shows that some were charged with nonviolent crimes, including driving without a license, public swearing or intoxication, failure to appear in court or possessing drugs.
Some were convicted of more serious crimes such as drunk driving, domestic assault, abduction, malicious wounding or carnal knowledge of a child between the ages of 13 and 15, and the record shows that ICE picked up six undocumented people before they were convicted.
Showing up for Racial Justice organizer Mark Heisey used his public comment period to read from a letter signed by 17 community groups.
“If a judge has decided to release someone on bond, or if someone has already served their sentence, that indicates that a judge has decided that the person is no longer a danger to the community,” the letter says. “By calling ICE to incarcerate someone for civil immigration infractions, ACRJ is subjecting undocumented community members to additional incarceration based solely on their legal status and not on the crime they have been accused of committing.”
The board members have also said they don’t know enough about each undocumented inmate’s history to determine whether he is a danger to the community, should he be released.
“While you may not know everything about undocumented inmates at the ACRJ, we do know a lot about ICE,” says the letter given to the board. “We know they imprison people in the most inhumane for-profit prisons in the country. We know they separate families and lose children. We know people have died in their custody. We know they are construction internment camps on U.S. military bases. We know they sexually assault people in their custody.”
Several members of the board weren’t present, including McKeel and Bellamy, who are both on the civil rights pilgrimage to the Equal Justice Initiative’s National Memorial for Peace and Justice in Montgomery, Alabama.
Outside the jail, Heisey said, “I’m confident that Wes would have pushed back against a lot of the narrative.”
But he said he’s glad that board members are considering holding a work session to re-evaluate their policies before their next meeting, which is in September.
And the irony of McKeel missing the meeting wasn’t lost on Heisey.
“She’s too busy celebrating civil rights victories of the past to be on the right side of civil rights struggles of the present.”