The ACLU of Virginia sued Culpeper County Sheriff Scott Jenkins and the Culpeper County Board of Supervisors Tuesday over an “unauthorized agreement” to use county resources to enforce federal immigration laws.
The lawsuit centers around Jenkins decision to enter into a the 287(g) contract with the U.S. Immigrations and Customs Enforcement that allows sheriff’s deputies to perform certain functions of ICE officers, including detaining them as if in ICE custody. The program is run through the Culpeper County jail.
A group of nearly 20 people - about half of them Culpeper locals - listened as ACLU of Virginia Executive Director Claire Guthrie Gastanaga discuss the lawsuit.
“The purpose of this lawsuit is to force Sheriff Jenkins to withdraw from his agreement with U.S. Customs and Immigration Enforcement which is harming the community he was elected to serve and protect,” she said.
According to the ACLU, Virginia is a “Dillon Rule” state, meaning local governments only have authority to take actions specifically authorized by the state Constitution or legislature. Neither authorizes localities or constitutional officers to voluntarily take on the responsibility to enforce federal immigration law directly or to spend local tax revenues to do so.
According to Gastanaga, the U.S. Constitution also protects immigrants who are not documented.
“They are entitled to the same constitutional rights,” she said.
The lawsuit was filed by Michael V. McClary and Christina Stockton against Jenkins and the Board of Supervisors as a result of a pro bono partnership between the ACLU of Virginia and McGuire Woods LLP. Jenkins is identified as a defendant in the lawsuit because he was the local official who entered into the 287(g) agreement and the BOS is a defendant because it allocates funding to the sheriff’s office.
“I think this is ridiculous, I haven’t read it yet, but I can’t believe they did this,” Culpeper County Board of Supervisors Chairman Bill Chase said.
The ACLU contends that the program is not “free” as Jenkins has maintained.
“While ICE does pay for expenses for training officers and some other direct costs, there is no question that local dollars still into play by, among other things, paying for the salaries and benefits of officers who are under direct and exclusive federal control,” ACLU of Virginia Legal Director Eden Heilman said.
Gastanaga could not say how many residents have been affected by the 287(g) program or how many officers have been trained under the program.
“The purpose of this litigation is to uphold the rule of law,” Gastanga said. “Culpeper officials will be prevented from engaging in acts not authorized by state law that make everyone in the community less safe by diverting scare criminal law enforcement resources to federal civil immigration law enforcement.”
Donna DeAngelis, of the Culpeper Persisters, praised the ACLU of Virginia for bringing the lawsuit forward.
“Culpeper is a lovely community,” she said. “We are growing not only in size, but in diversity. We support our Hispanic neighbors.”
Jenkins also faces a federal class-action civil lawsuit brought by the Legal Aid Justice Center and Victor M. Glasberg and Associates.
In that lawsuit, Francisco Guardado Rios, the plaintiff in the class action, claims that he was held in the Culpeper County jail past the date he had been ordered released without any legal authority to do so.
According to the lawsuit, Guardado Rios was initially legally incarcerated in the jail on state misdemeanor charges, was awaiting his trial and should have been released from custody. He was granted a $1,000 bail, but according to the lawsuit Sheriff Jenkins refused to release him.
Gastanaga said that the 287(g) program instills fear in the community.
“Culpeper residents need to know that these agreements actually make communities less safe,” Heilman said. “They create fear among immigrants, documented or undocumented, that reporting crimes or otherwise cooperating with law enforcement as a victim or witness will lead to their status being questioned and ultimately deported.”