Victory! Bid to Make Virginia a Sanctuary State Fails

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October 23, 2020

Virginia Supreme Court refuses to block local sheriffs from enforcing immigration law

WASHINGTON—Yesterday, the Supreme Court of Virginia ruled on an appeal of a case brought by American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) attorneys against Scott Jenkins, the Sheriff of Culpeper County, Virginia, challenging his enforcement of federal immigration law in his county. A lower court had dismissed the case. After the Immigration Reform Law Institute (IRLI) filed a friend-of-the-court brief with the Supreme Court of Virginia in support of the sheriff, the Court affirmed that dismissal.

The ACLU claimed that when, as provided for in federal law, Sheriff Jenkins performs the functions of a federal immigration officer pursuant to an agreement that he has reached with the federal government, or when he otherwise assists in federal immigration enforcement, he is acting without authority under Virginia law.

As IRLI discovered, however, Virginia law is replete with statutes that explicitly confer immigration-enforcement authority on local jurisdictions, such as the authority to detain illegal aliens for the federal government. One statute even provides that sheriffs may enter into agreements with other jurisdictions, including federal law enforcement agencies, to enforce federal laws. In short, the statutes IRLI brought to the Court’s attention demonstrate that the ACLU’s version of Virginia law is a fantasy: the Commonwealth gives Sheriff Jenkins ample authority to enforce federal immigration law.

The Court’s ruling is consistent with IRLI’s brief. Far from holding that Virginia precludes sheriffs from enforcing federal immigration law, the Court ruled that the ACLU’s clients did not even have standing to be in court in the first place.

“In the face of its failure to threaten sheriffs into standing down on immigration law enforcement with federal lawsuits, the ACLU is taking another tack: going state-by-state, suing in state courts to try to get rulings that sheriffs lack the requisite state authority,” said Dale L. Wilcox, executive director and general counsel of IRLI. “In the case of Virginia, this was bound to be an epic fail; a single glance at the Virginia Code is enough to show that Virginia is far from a sanctuary state. We are pleased that the Supreme Court of Virginia dismissed this appeal, letting Sheriff Jenkins carry on protecting his county from the dangers posed by criminal aliens.”

The case is McClary v. Jenkins, No. 191132 (S. Ct. Vir.).

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

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