Staff Report

Alexandria Sheriff Dana Lawhorne (courtesy photo)

The Alexandria Sheriff’s Office is implementing a new policy requiring Immigration and Customs Enforcement to take custody of inmates at the Alexandria Detention Center within five days before their sentence has been served. Under this new policy, which will be implemented this summer, ICE must take custody of those awaiting trial no more than 16 hours after they would have otherwise been released.

Recently Alexandria Sheriff’s Office staff reviewed data for the past 18 months to see how long individuals sought by ICE are held. This examination showed that it took ICE on average10 hours to pick up someone after their sentence had been completed, and within 18 hours, on average, to pick up someone in a pre-trial status. The new policy reflects the reality of what is already occurring. Because the release date of someone serving a sentence is already known, ICE can arrange to take custody of an individual within five days before their sentence is complete as provided by Virginia Code § 53.1-220.2. Pre-trial releases are unpredictable and require a limited timeframe in order to allow for the lawful transfer of custody. Under the new policy, ICE must pick up within 16 hours but will be allowed an 8-hour extension in unforeseen circumstances.

“We knew anecdotally that transfers were being made without delay and our study confirmed that,” said Alexandria Sheriff Dana Lawhorne. “The new policy will better reflect what we actually do and reassure the community that people are not being unduly detained.”

“I don’t see this as changing our relationship with ICE. It’s simply an adjustment to better reflect our practices,” Lawhorne said.

The Alexandria Sheriff’s Office does have an intergovernmental agreement with ICE. The IGA continues to play a role by serving as a mechanism to ensure the orderly transfer of custody. The IGA does allow ICE to use bed space at the Alexandria Detention Center as a backup in pressing situations. The maximum time in custody under these circumstances will be 24 hours and only if ICE produces a warrant (I-200) and a commitment order.

In recent months, Lawhorne met with the Legal Aid Justice Center, Tenants and Workers United, and Grassroots Alexandria about these issues. He made a commitment to them last month that he would be making changes.

“Thank you, Sheriff, for your willingness to engage with the community and revisit your practices. We are encouraged that you describe this as a ‘first step.’ And it is a step in the right direction,” said Simon Sandoval-Moshenberg, legal director of the Legal Aid Justice Center’s Immigrant Advocacy Program. “But 16 extra hours in jail for immigrants is still 16 hours too long. Immigrants should be treated no differently than citizens: after they post bail, they should be allowed to walk out the front door.”

“There is no law that compels the jail to transfer people to ICE,” said Mia Taylor, organizer with Tenants and Workers United. “Local law enforcement should not be enforcing the laws of a broken federal immigration system.”

“We are hearing a tremendous outpouring of concern from our friends and neighbors in Alexandria,” said Jonathan Krall from Grassroots Alexandria. “The jail is one place where we have the power to make a change.”