This op-ed was submitted by Steve Descano, the Democratic nominee for Fairfax County’s Commonwealth’s Attorney and former prosecutor for U.S. Department of Justice under the Obama administration. It does not reflect the opinions of Tysons Reporter. We publish op-eds and letters to the editor of specific interest to the Tysons community. Contributions may be edited for length or content.
The national conversation on immigration can be debilitating. While national politics on this issue is a catastrophe, local District Attorneys can implement policies in their offices to protect our immigrant communities.
Fairfax County’s next Commonwealth’s Attorney (Virginia’s version of a District Attorney) will lead a criminal justice system larger than seven states and the District of Columbia. The foreign-born population of Fairfax County makes up about 30% of its population of 1.1 million.
Where you come from doesn’t give you less of a right to fair treatment under the criminal justice system. Additionally, because prosecutors have the potential to touch so many when it comes to immigration, they must take the lead.
Immigrant populations are often vulnerable to a criminal justice system that does not treat them in the same way as non-immigrants. If we want Fairfax County to continue to be welcoming and for diversity to be a central characteristic of the community, then those values need to be reflected in the criminal justice system.
District Attorneys can change the way their offices interact with ICE and other immigration officials. I have promised not to assist ICE. This paradigm shift will increase public safety.
For example, domestic abusers regularly exploit their victim’s immigration status to stop the victims from reporting abuse, thereby trapping their victims in a recurring cycle of domestic violence. Allowing these victims to report their abuser without having to fear their own deportation gives them a real opportunity to escape continued victimization.
Regardless of the crime committed, when undocumented individuals feel that they can report crime to the police, our communities are safer. Instead of sowing distrust between immigrants and law enforcement, public safety demands that we ensure everyone feels protected.
Charging and plea guidelines in a DA’s office can also affect undocumented communities. Considering the immigration consequences of charging and plea decisions is critical to ensuring equality and opportunity. If two people commit the same minor offense, but only one’s punishment includes the breaking up of their family via deportation, the result is unequal treatment based on status.
Furthermore, deporting parents and removing them from their children for minor offenses serves no social good. It merely creates more hardship and exacerbates inequality.
For too long, the criminal justice system has been skilled at breaking up families and systemically fostering criminal behavior. This failure has taken the most vulnerable down with it.
As prosecutors, we have the opportunity to build up communities by rooting out the systemic causes of crime. We should be leaders in our communities in bringing equality to immigrants even if we can’t reform immigration policy nationally.
— Steve Descano
Photo via Steve Descano/Facebook