Regional jail says ‘no’ to ICE detainees

Published 7:49 pm Monday, December 9, 2019

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At its November meeting, the Western Tidewater Regional Jail Authority voted to reject a proposal that would have housed U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) detainees in the facility.

The proposal — as three ICE representatives had explained to the Authority in October — would have placed individuals accused of having immigrated to the United States illegally in the custody of the WTRJ for up to 72 hours pending their transfer to a long-term facility.

According to Camilla Wamsley, chief of staff for the ICE office in Fairfax County, these individuals would already be in ICE custody, as opposed to those in local custody under ICE detainers. A detainer, according to ICE Deputy Chief Counsel Ian Gallagher, is when an individual is first arrested by a local authority for a local crime, and ICE then faxes the arresting agency an I247A form asking for that person to be detained pending his or her arrest on immigration charges. While Wamsley acknowledged that there have been some legal battles concerning inmates with detainers, Gallagher assured the Authority members that detainers are “not what we are talking about in your case.”

“We are referring to those who have already been put in handcuffs and arrested by ICE officers under an I203 federal remand order,” Gallagher said. “We are just trying to find a local bed for them for up to 72 hours.”

Yet when Authority Vice Chairman Rudolph Jefferson asked if these detainees are being arrested for actually committing a crime, or for just not having a United States social security card, Chad Byrne, assistant field office director from ICE’s Norfolk office, indicated most of the individuals proposed to be housed at the WTRJ would be those who have gone through this process — meaning arrest on a local charge, detention, and an additional arrest by ICE officers.

“Most of the time we arrest them in the Norfolk area because they have been arrested by someone else,” Byrne said. “It is misconstrued that ICE arrests everybody, which is not the case, as we have priorities, and prioritize them: felons, gang members and other criminal charges.”

Gallagher then clarified that while there are three major categories of individuals ICE pursues, those who “snuck across the border” don’t need any additional criminal charges to make them deportable.

The ICE representatives added that the deportation process is civil rather than criminal, though it can be criminal such as in instances where a person has already been deported and then illegally re-enters the country. When Isle of Wight County Administrator Randy Keaton, who serves as an alternate for the county on the Authority, asked if ICE makes arrests on civil charges rather than criminal, Gallagher responded, “Yes.” This led Keaton to question the legality of jailing someone who hasn’t been arrested on a criminal charge. However, WTRJ Superintendent William Smith responded that only detainees who are charged criminally were proposed to be housed at the Western Tidewater jail.

In the end, it was the issue of liability that seemed to doom the ICE proposal. Franklin City Manager Amanda Jarratt, who serves as Franklin’s alternate on the Authority, had asked if ICE would be prepared to incur the legal costs of any lawsuits concerning detainees incarcerated at the WTRJ, to which Gallagher replied that from a cost standpoint, ICE “wouldn’t be able to promise” anything. Though Wamsley said that ICE typically does not have any lawsuits pertaining to individuals who are held for 72 hours or less.

Suffolk City Councilman Mike Duman agreed with Jarratt that, “If ICE is not willing to accept 100-percent liability for their inmates then WTRJ shouldn’t entertain housing them.” He also raised the same concern Keaton had brought up, stating, “Even though the money is the same as what we get from the [federal] inmates, with ICE piggy-backing off of their contract, the question is, who are we getting? We aren’t really holding them in a sense of someone charged with a crime who is sentenced to stay here for a considerable amount of time, instead creating a stop-off point for them for up to 72 hours before they [ICE] take them somewhere else.”

Isle of Wight County Board of Supervisors Chairman William McCarty added that from an inmate population standpoint alone, the WTRJ is “already full over on federal inmates.”

When asked for comments on behalf of ICE regarding the Authority’s decision, Carissa Cutrell of ICE public affairs, simply acknowledged that ICE had met with the Authority on Oct. 9 and that the Authority had since determined that it is unable to house ICE detainees at this time.”