Senate committee approves plan to require jails to notify immigration officials

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(Del. Charles Poindexter – General Assembly photo)
BY SABRINA ESCOBAR
STAFF WRITER
THE CAPITAL NEWS SERVICE

A key Senate committee voted Wednesday to pass a bill that would require local jails and correctional facilities officials to notify U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement of the release of non-citizen inmates.

The bill, HB 2270, introduced by Del. Charles Poindexter, R-Franklin, passed the Committee for Courts of Justice in a 9-6 vote Wednesday.

“This bill is very straightforward,” Poindexter said at Wednesday’s hearing. “It requires our local and regional jails to notify ICE forthwith as soon as the release of an alien is known from the court.”

Currently, sheriffs and officials running regional jails and correctional facilities are not legally obligated to notify ICE of the non-citizen inmate’s release, although many do, Martin Kumer, superintendent of the Albemarle-Charlottesville regional jail said.

“This really won’t have any operational or logistical impact on us, it’s what we currently do,” he said.

State law requires regional jails and correctional facilities to take fingerprints of everyone who is booked into a state jail. The fingerprints are then uploaded to the ICE, FBI, CIA and other agencies’ databases to see whether the inmate is wanted by any of those agencies for criminal justice purposes, Kumer said.

ICE currently uses a risk assessment procedure that filters the release notifications issued by the jails and flags which inmates to pick up, Poindexter said.

“What this legislation does is lawfully require all jails to then say ‘Hey, this person you’ve expressed interest in is going to be released on this day,’ ” Kumer said.

If passed, the new law would require jails to notify the release of any non-citizen inmates, whether they are in the country legally or illegally, which would impact people of various immigration statuses, Lana Martinez, a representative for CASA de Virginia, said.

“It has real dire and detrimental effects on families who are desperate to know why the state has disappeared their loved ones when they go to pick them up upon release and ICE has already taken custody and the family has no knowledge of this,” she said at Wednesday’s hearing.

Several organizations were present at the hearing to voice their opposition to the bill, including the American Civil Liberties Union, the Secretary of Public Safety and Homeland Security and the Virginia Interfaith Center for Public Policy.

“This legislation is discriminatory and it divides us as a Commonwealth,”  Benjamin Hoyne, Policy & Campaigns Director for the Virginia Interfaith Center for Public Policy, said. “Immigrants are an important part of our community and our economy. Virginia should be championing diversity as it makes us better people.”

The bill originally prohibited regional jails and facilities from receiving three years of state funding in the case of noncompliance, but that clause was removed during House hearings, as officers felt it was too harsh. Multiple sheriffs’ offices were in favor of the bill, with a representative speaking at Wednesday’s hearing and voicing their support the amended bill.

The bill passed the House on Feb. 5 in a narrow vote across party lines, with one Democrat, Del. Kelly Fowler, D-Chesapeake, voting in favor.

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