Sanctuary County Chooses Politics Over Public Safety

Press Releases

September 16, 2020

IRLI finds Fairfax County, Va., denied 98 percent of ICE detainer requests over two years

WASHINGTON—An investigation by the Immigration Reform Law Institute (IRLI) reveals that Fairfax County, Virginia refused more than 900 requests from immigration authorities to hold criminal illegal aliens for possible deportation in a timespan of less than two years.

The findings come after Fairfax County officials recently enacted two separate sanctuary orders shielding criminal aliens from federal authorities.

Between May 23, 2018 and May 6, 2020, Fairfax County, a prosperous suburb of Washington, D.C., received a total of 929 detainer requests, also called warrants of removal, from U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). The number reveals how many times non-citizens and illegal alien criminals end up in Fairfax County custody. More telling, however, was how many of these warrants of removal were deemed unacceptable by the Fairfax County Sheriff’s Office. 

IRLI asked the county Sheriff’s Office how many of these warrants fit their definition of a “lawfully issued criminal detainer.” They replied that only 14 such warrants were issued during this time period, leaving 915 warrants effectively denied. Fairfax County’s sanctuary policy requires an ICE warrant to be signed by a judge or magistrate, despite immigration officers having the authority, vested by Congress, to issue an immigration warrant at their own discretion.

“There is nothing unacceptable about any detainer that seeks to remove criminals from our neighborhoods,” said Tom Homan, senior fellow at IRLI and former acting director of ICE. “There is nothing unacceptable about law enforcement working hand in hand with other law enforcement to protect our communities and keep our streets safer. What IS unacceptable is when a law enforcement leader chooses politics over public safety and fails to protect the communities he is sworn to protect.”

Fairfax County defines a lawfully issued criminal detainer as an “AO 442 arrest warrant” signed by a judge or magistrate. When asked if there were any examples of the county receiving a warrant of removal that did not include a “lawfully issued criminal detainer,” but still opting to honor them, a Fairfax County Sheriff’s spokesperson simply repeated their requirement of the AO 442 arrest warrant – and did not provide examples.

In January 2018, Fairfax County announced it would cancel an Intergovernmental Service Agreement it had with ICE, and no longer hold illegal aliens past their release date unless an administrative request from ICE is accompanied by a criminal detainer issued by a court. This meant that a standard detainer request from ICE, which asks that a law enforcement agency hold onto a non-citizen in their custody for no longer than 48 hours, would no longer be honored. 

A letter from the Fairfax County Sheriff’s Office, dated January 22, 2018, informed ICE that it would “not honor any requests to detain individuals subject to an administrative detention request unless there is a corresponding lawfully issued criminal detainer.” The order officially went into effect on May 23, 2018.

“Requiring criminal warrants is the latest cynical tactic of sanctuary jurisdictions seeking to obstruct federal immigration authorities,” said Dale L. Wilcox, executive director and general counsel of IRLI. “The criteria for handing over a criminal alien are set artificially high to make it almost impossible for ICE to comply.”

The consequences of sanctuary jurisdictions choosing to not honor ICE detainer requests has been well documented. Many criminal aliens who are not subject to these detainers are allowed to re-enter the community upon their release from local custody, giving them the possibility to re-offend and commit more crimes. 

Fairfax County authorities, unfortunately, have only doubled down on their sanctuary agenda. 

In June the county announced that a policy would further bar cooperation between Fairfax officers and Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). The new order, which went into effect on May 6, bans county officers from complying with ICE warrants. It also bans ICE deportation officers from accessing county police buildings, and encourages local officers to release individuals on summonses rather than arresting and booking them for minor infractions. 

The latest sanctuary directive helps keep these criminal aliens off of ICE’s radar, further preventing the possibility of their deportation.

For additional information, contact: Brian Lonergan • 202-232-5590 • blonergan@irli.org

Get Connected

Sign up for our email newsletter to stay up to date with immigration reform in the United States.

Attorneys United for a Secure America (AUSA) is a non-partisan affiliation of talented attorneys dedicated to pursuing cases that serve the national interest when it comes to immigration law.

If you are interested in joining the network, visit the AUSA website.