Election leaves ICE agreement in question

Election leaves ICE agreement in question
By Daniel Berti Times Staff Writer

Ann Wheeler, a Democrat, is the chairman-elect of the Prince William County Board of Supervisors. Sheriff Glendell Hill, a Republican, won a fifth term on Nov. 5.
Mike Beaty, Delia Engstrom

Democrats elected to Prince William’s Board of Supervisors say they will review the county’s decade-long partnership with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, setting the stage for a potential conflict with Sheriff Glen Hill, a Republican and staunch supporter of the agreement who was re-elected to a fifth term last week.
Hill serves as chairman of the 10-member Prince William-Manassas Regional Jail Board, which will decide sometime next year whether Prince William County, Manassas and Manassas Park will retain its agreement with ICE, known as 287(g). Hill signed the county’s first memorandum of agreement with ICE in 2008, which the board renewed every three years until this past May when it agreed to only a one-year extension because of the upcoming November election.
Newly elected Democratic supervisors said repeatedly on the campaign trail that local dollars should not be spent to fund the ICE agreement, which costs about $300,000 in local tax dollars per year, according to records jail officials provided in response to a Freedom of Information Act request.
But since the election, Hill has not responded to requests for comment and Board Chair-Elect Ann Wheeler, the first Democrat elected to lead the county supervisors since 1999, has not offered a specific response about the future of the ICE agreement.
In emails this week, Wheeler declined to elaborate on remarks she made at a post-election press conference Nov. 6, when she said she expects the new Democratic-majority board will review 287(g) along with other county policies.
“I expect the newly elected board of county supervisors will perform a comprehensive review of all of our current immigration policies,” Wheeler said.
Speaking at a candidates’ forum prior to the election, however, Wheeler said she would not support maintaining the agreement if elected.
“The 287(g) program, whether we have it or not, does not mean we don’t lock up serious criminals who have serious offenses,” she said.
In an August interview, Hill called the agreement an effective law-enforcement tool that increased public safety in the county.
“I’m quite sure that there have been people detained with ICE detainers that gave us some good information about gang activity, drug activity and human trafficking that’s going on in the county and the surrounding area,” Hill said at the time.
Hill narrowly beat Democrat Josh King by about 750 votes in the Nov. 5 contest. King campaigned heavily on his pledge to end the county’s ICE partnership and called on Hill and the now Democratic-led county board to do the same in his concession statement.
King called the agreement “the Jim Crow of the new millennium” and said the county’s law-enforcement “cannot build public trust with Prince William’s majority-minority community as long as it remains in place.”
The 287(g) agreement effectively deputizes jail officers as ICE agents, giving them access federal databases and allowing the jail to hold inmates for 48 hours past their release date so ICE can take them into custody if it chooses.
Under the agreement, 6,503 inmates were transferred to ICE custody from the local jail between 2011 and 2019, according to records obtained in a FOIA request. It is not clear what happened to those individuals, however, because immigration violations are civil — not criminal — offenses, which means individual cases are not public record, according to ICE officials.
Only two counties in Virginia hold a 287(g) agreement with ICE: Prince William and Culpeper.
When Prince William County’s government transitions in January, elected Democrats will take the majority not only of the board of supervisors but also the jail board. Its members will include Commonwealth’s Attorney-Elect Amy Ashworth (D), Clerk of the Circuit Court Jacqueline Smith (D) and five citizen members appointed by the Prince William County Board of Supervisors and Manassas City Council, both of which have Democratic majorities.
Two county staff members — Director of Office of Criminal Justice Services Steven Austin and Prince William County Police Chief Barry Barnard – also serve on the jail board.
Ashworth has been critical of the county’s ICE agreement on the campaign trail. Ashworth said at a candidate’s forum the program did nothing to ensure county residents’ safety. “We created an entire class of people, namely immigrants — some legal, some not legal — that were afraid to come forward and report crimes,” Ashworth said.
CASA in Action, the region’s largest pro-immigrant political organization, endorsed King, Ashworth and all five Democratic supervisors-elect and actively campaigned on their behalf. Luis Aguilar, Virginia director of CASA in Action, said he expects the new board to end the county’s 287(g) program.
“We expect them to remove that program and end that program. It’s critical to have that,” Aguilar said.
But exactly how quickly either the Prince William County board or the Manassas City Council will move on the agreement remained unclear this week.
Supervisor-Elect Margaret Franklin was the only Democratic newly elected board member to offer a clear position on the issue.
“Everyone in Prince William County deserves a fair chance to provide for their families,” Franklin said in an email. “Policies that are divisive, like 287(g), have no place in our community. I will protect the immigrant families in my district, and I’m looking forward to working with our new board to defund policies that do the opposite.”
Supervisor-Elect Kenny Boddye, a Democrat elected to represent the Occoquan District, declined to comment on the record about the future of the county’s ICE agreement. No other newly elected Democratic supervisors-elect returned emails for comment.
Manassas City Councilman Mark Wolfe, also a Democrat, said his council has not recently discussed the 287(g) agreement and has no immediate plans to do. Wolfe further said the city’s police department is generally supportive of 287(g).
“I have always been guided by the input I receive from my police department that the program has been beneficial,” Wolfe said. “Cost is a legitimate concern. Why should local tax dollars be supporting a federal program? But there is also a benefit to the locality of having a safer community.”
Supervisor-Elect Yesli Vega, a Republican elected to represent the Coles District, said she remains a supporter of the 287(g) agreement. The other two Republican supervisors returning to the board – Supervisors Pete Candland, R-Gainesville, and Jeanine Lawson, R-Brentsville — did not return emails seeking comment.
Vega, a former Manassas Park police officer and Prince William County sheriff’s deputy, campaigned on continuing the county’s ICE agreement.
“As a former police officer and Latina, I know firsthand that ending the 287(g) agreement would put our immigrant communities at the greatest risk of danger,” Vega said in an email. “The criminals subject to the agreement are the worst of the worst – people who commit armed robbery, rapists, murderers. Not your everyday Hispanic immigrant walking down the street, just trying to make a living.”
Asked if she thought the board would have difficulty ending the program because Hill is chair of the regional jail board, Vega replied: “Yes.”
The regional jail board meets every third Wednesday in odd months at the Adult Detention Center at 7 p.m. The next meeting is Wednesday, Nov. 20.
Times Staff Writer Jill Palermo contributed to this report. Reach Daniel Berti at [email protected]