Prince William County’s jail staff will no longer participate in the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement's 287(g) program.
Prince William-Manassas Regional Jail Board held a special meeting Wednesday and discussed the program.
In place since 2007, the agreement involves county jail staffers alerting ICE officials anytime they have arrested an undocumented person. The jail can then hold anyone in the country illegally for up to 48 hours and transfer them to ICE’s custody.
Sheriff Glen Hill, chairman of the jail board, made a motion to continue the program, but could not find a second and the motion failed. That means the program will expire Tuesday, June 30.
The board received 110 pages of public comments regarding the 287(g) program.
The Prince William County jail is one of only two law enforcement groups in the state participating in the program. The other is the Culpeper County Sheriff's Office at its jail.
Kate Pote, ICE spokeswoman, provided some data to InsideNoVa via email. From fiscal year 2018 through the current fiscal year 2020, the county jail referred people to the agency, leading to 579 people in total being deported after being transferred into ICE custody due through the county’s 287(g) program.
Col. Peter Meletis, Superintendent of the Prince William-Manassas Regional Adult Detention Center, said during the meeting Wednesday the program has cost the jail about $287,000 in the current fiscal year, which ends June 30. ICE has reimbursed about $116,000 of that amount, he said. That means the 287(g) program has so far cost the county about $171,000 this fiscal year.
Under the 287(g) program, jail staff ask everyone if they were born in the U.S. or if they were born in another country, Meletis said. Staff check their immigration status if they were born in another country. If they’re in the U.S. without authorization, jail staff will notify ICE. Under the program, jail staff can hold incarcerated people for up to 48 hours while they wait to be transferred to ICE. The federal agency reimburses the jail $84 for each day the jail houses an inmate waiting to be transferred to ICE.
Prince William Police Chief Barry Barnard, who is one of the 11 members on the jail board, said the program erodes trust in some communities, such as immigrants, which could make people avoid the police if they’re worried about their family or friends.
“I can say county police doesn't do that,” he said about checking immmigration status. “Intellectually people understand, but folks still make that connection to us. That’s why I’m coming back to this issue of trust.”
Barnard, who joined the department in 1976, has announced he is retiring on July 1. During the meeting Wednesday, he said the goal of the program in earlier years was to focus on people who were arrested for the worst crimes.
“Today I think it’s drifted away from that a little bit,” he said. “I understand there is value there. Today we are putting detainers on everybody regardless of crime committed, so I think we should get away from that a little bit. I think this program has run its course.”
The Prince William Board of County Supervisors voted 5-3 on May 19 to appoint to the jail board Cozy Bailey, president of the Prince William NAACP; Del. Elizabeth Guzman, who represents the 31st District that includes parts of Prince William and Fauquier counties; and Tracey Lenox, who has since been appointed the county’s first chief public defender.
Guzman told InsideNoVa over the phone before the meeting that enforcing immigration policy is not a local responsibility, among other concerns she has with the program.
Guzman, who was first elected in 2017, was one of the first Latinas to be elected to serve in the Virginia General Assembly. She said during the meeting the majority of comments from residents to the jail board oppose the 287(g) program.
“As an immigrant myself, I can tell you, we don't like this program,” she said during the meeting. “It created a division and many people who look like me left the county because of it.”
The program is broken, Lenox said during the meeting.
“The community has lost faith in it,” she said.