The American Civil Liberties Union of Virginia has filed a civil suit in Culpeper Circuit Court against Culpeper County Sheriff Scott Jenkins and the Culpeper County Board of Supervisors over the sheriff’s agreement with the federal government to help enforce federal immigration laws.
This is the second time in as many months that Jenkins has been sued related to immigration policy.
About 20 people gathered on a cold Tuesday afternoon in Yowell Meadow Park for the ACLU’s announcement challenging the sheriff’s April contract with Immigration and Customs Enforcement that extends some federal immigration enforcement functions to local jail deputies.
The agreement through a program called 287(g) allows the jail deputies processing inmates to screen them for documentation status and issue 48-hour detainers, during which time ICE can chose to take individuals into custody. Only one other entity in Virginia—the Prince William County Jail Authority—has the program in place.
The lawsuit filed Tuesday names Culpeper County residents Michael McClary and Christina Stockton as the plaintiffs. McClary is a veteran and retired federal worker who writes a column for the Star-Exponent.
The Board of Supervisors was named among the defendants in the lawsuit because the elected body approves funding for the Sheriff’s Office, said ACLU of Virginia Executive Director Claire Guthrie Gastanaga. She said the purpose of the suit is to force Jenkins to withdraw from the ICE agreement she said is unlawful and harms the community he was elected to serve and protect.
“Having the sheriff’s own people become agents of ICE no longer subject to his direction or control is dangerous,” she said, reading from a statement. “It creates distrust and discourages immigrants, regardless of their status, from cooperating with local law enforcement officers as victims or witnesses of crimes for fear that they or their family members might be detained or deported.”
Gastanaga said because Virginia is a “Dillon Rule” state, localities are restricted to actions only expressly authorized by the General Assembly or in the Virginia Constitution, neither of which permits localities or constitutional officers like a sheriff to volunteer to enforce federal civil immigration laws, she said.
The ACLU said it also filing suit because of the local expense to implement 287(g) in the local jail, including salaries and benefits for the up to six deputies authorized to participate in the program.
“This includes every minute that a sheriff’s deputy spends time serving arrest warrants, detaining and transporting individuals to ICE-approved detention facilities, interrogating a detained individual, administering oaths, taking and considering evidence, preparing charging documents, processing an individual deemed appropriate for removal or issuing immigration detainers,” according to the lawsuit.
The lawsuit states participation in the federal program also generates local expenses related to training, security equipment, technology, supplies and office space.
In April, when the ICE agreement was ratified in Culpeper, Jenkins said any expense related to implementing the program would be negligible compared to the harm the program might prevent by stopping the release of convicted criminals back into the general public.
According to an ICE agent who participated in the signing ceremony, participation in 287(g) would allow jail deputies to screen for immigration status more quickly, closing a “key vulnerability” that occurs when undocumented inmates are able to bond out before their status is known.
Estimating at 600 the annual number of undocumented immigrants in the Culpeper Jail, Jenkins stressed in April that 287(g) would not be implemented at the street level.
At Tuesday’s gathering, Donna DeAngelis with the Culpeper Persisters called the program “a blight on our community,” noting the locality had become more diverse in recent years.
“We support our Hispanic neighbors,” she said, “and we want them to be treated justly.”
Sophia Gregg with Legal Aid Justice Center—the other group that filed suit against Jenkins related to his immigration policies—attended the park event in a show of support. She referenced “civil rights abuses” by the local sheriff and said he lacked legal authority to detain people in the jail based on immigration status.
The number of people impacted by the 287(g) program in Culpeper is unknown, said Gastanaga, adding the program is “cloaked in secrecy.” She said “the fear factor” associated with it among the immigrant community is “real and huge,” discouraging interaction with local law enforcement.
Gastanaga stated firmly that immigrants to the United States, regardless of their documentation status, are entitled to the same constitutional protections as American citizens.
Madison County resident Dink Kreis attended to show her support for the effort.
“I am here because I think what is going on in this country with immigration is reprehensible,” she said. “We are all immigrants, that how this country was founded.
Culpeper resident Lis Piatt concurred, saying she came to New York City in 1956 as a refugee from East Germany.
“What happened to the empathy?” she said.
According to Sgt. Ana Ortiz of the Sheriff's Office, Jenkins has not been served any papers and has no comment at this time. The county attorney could not be reached for comment.