Culpeper County Sheriff Scott Jenkins signed an agreement Tuesday to enforce the 287(g) program through the office of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) in the Culpeper County jail.
The decision has been met with vocal opposition from Hispanic groups in Culpeper County, who feel the program puts an undeserved target on their population. On Saturday, those groups held a rally at Yowell Meadow Park to oppose the signing of the agreement.
The program, one of ICE's top partnership initiatives, allows a state or local law enforcement entity to enter into a partnership with ICE, under a joint Memorandum of Agreement, in order to receive delegated authority for immigration enforcement within their jurisdictions.
Jenkins on Tuesday refuted the claims of the groups opposing the program, insisting he has the community’s safety only in mind.
“My message is simple today, just last week we had a detective out of state assisting on a federal investigation, that’s not unusual for us,” Jenkins said. “We cooperate and regularly work with federal authorities. The ICE agreement is just another example of our cooperation with federal law enforcement.”
Monica Sarmiento, executive director, Virginia Coalition for Immigrant Rights, a collaborative of 25 organizations in commonwealth of Virginia, said the program will “turn off” the Hispanic community to Culpeper.
“We are here in opposition of the 287(g) agreement which is a blatant manipulation from the sheriff’s office, to intimidate specifically the minority communities of Culpeper,” Sarmiento said. “This is an illogical proposal of an agreement.”
Jenkins responded Tuesday, reiterating that the program will only affect illegal immigrants who are jailed in the Culpeper County jail.
“Persons with an agenda will continue to attack the 287(g) program, saying it is something to cause fear in the community,” Jenkins said. “In fact the program is of absolutely no concern to you, unless you are committed to our jail, regardless of your immigration status.”
Jenkins said that tens of thousands of Culpeper citizens, including ones who are in the country illegally, have never committed a crime in Culpeper that have caused them to enter the jail population.
“If your poor decisions cause you to enter our jail, after already being an illegal guest in our community, then I cannot understand why you think you shouldn’t be handed over to ICE through this new screening process we’re about to implement,” Jenkins said.
He signed the agreement Tuesday in memory of Zulma Alvarez, a young woman who, along with her unborn child, was killed by an illegal immigrant who was driving drunk on Sept. 6, 2012.
Alvarez’s family took umbrage with the fact their daughter’s name was used to promote 287(g).
“(I’m) very uncomfortable with the use of my daughter’s memory in this way,” Jose Alvarez, her father, said through an interpreter. “It's very unfair, because I am a longtime resident of Culpeper, that the sheriff would use her name in this way, to benefit and support a program I don’t agree with.”
Alvarez said no one from the sheriff’s office reached out to him prior to the announcement and his family was not invited to the ceremony.
“My heart goes out to her family, at the same time she is one of many victims, and we reference those on a daily basis when speak about topics such as this,” Jenkins said. “I feel so sorry for the entire family and I had no intent to stir up emotions or hurt them in any way. It touches me, that was the first death in my term of sheriff.”
Jenkins referenced Alvarez as many of the victims, also referencing Milton Eduardo Grijalva, who was killed at Sisk Field in Brandy Station in a violent attack at a soccer match.
Five illegal immigrants were charged with the crime and were jailed in connection with his death.
“We convicted those people, one got a sentence of a year or two, was deported and in less than a year is back in Culpeper and under arrest by the town police for assault under a different name,” Jenkins said. “I saw him, I stumbled upon him at the magistrate's office.”
Now, Jenkins hopes that those occurrences will be lessened by the agreement with ICE.
Matthew Albence, executive associate director for Enforcement and Removal Operations, said the partnership, of which there are now 76 nationally with another three expected in the coming month, is a “force multiplier.”
“You ask any law enforcement professional at any level of state, local or federal government if they have enough resources to do their jobs, and they’re going to tell you no,” Albence said. “That's why these partnerships are so important. Because now, with the great help of Sheriff Jenkins and those officers in the jail, they’ll be able to screen individuals who are foreign born who are being put into that jail in violation of a criminal statute.”
The program will train four deputies at first, with another two expected later. The basic training occurs in Charleston, S.C., and Jenkins said he is unsure when it will begin. He said that command staff officers will serve in place of the deputies who will be away on training, in a show of solidarity and in an effort to combat expensive overtime.
Sophia Gregg, an attorney with the Immigrant Advocacy Program of the Legal Aid Justice Center, said last week that the sheriff’s actions will cause serious repercussions in Culpeper.
“When someone is brought into jail they may be screened and subject to deportation,” Gregg said. “The sheriff will no longer have control over the deputies in their day to day activities as an acting ICE authority.”
Jenkins refuted the claim, saying he will still control the deputies.
“That’s false, deputy sheriff’s serve at the pleasure of the sheriff,” Jenkins said. “This program being implemented, yes they’ll fall under the guidelines and conduct as ICE dictates for their program. I would compare it to the use of the state and federal criminal information network that we utilize each day. The officers will already be on duty [and it] will just add some more work when it comes to these situations with these illegal aliens. It’s not a complicated process, it’s simply a screening process.”
Jenkins also stressed that the program is a jail model only and will not impact any deputies at a street level.
“It’s unfortunate we have people spreading fear that it’s a street level program, which it is not,” Jenkins said. “I can’t emphasize enough, it’s strictly concerning those who are arrested for other crimes and are in our jail. Once you are in our jail, you would be subjected to this screening process. I think it’s unfortunate that we have so many law abiding residents of our community who are being put in fear that we are somehow going to change how we do our business day to day.”
Gregg said that the Legal Aid Justice Center will be keeping a close eye on the county and the program.
“From our point of view, we will be watching the sheriff very closely,” Gregg said. “We will be watching not only the financial impact on Culpeper, but also the human impact and how this program is carried out. When and if the legal issue presents itself, we will be there. We want the sheriff to know, this doesn’t end on the 24th.”