Fairfax County employees are now prohibited from providing information about a person’s immigration or citizenship status to federal immigration authorities unless required by law or court order.
The Fairfax County Board of Supervisors voted 9-1 to adopt the new Public Trust and Confidentiality Policy yesterday (Tuesday) as part of a board matter introduced by Chairman Jeff McKay, Dranesville District Supervisor John Foust, and Providence District Supervisor Dalia Palchik.
While Fairfax County has long maintained that it does not assist Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) unless mandated, McKay, Foust, and Palchik say the need to turn those guidelines into a formal policy has been heightened the COVID-19 pandemic, which has disproportionately affected local Latino communities in particular.
“While there are no known instances of General County employees voluntarily sharing information about a resident’s immigration status, such policies are no doubt critical steps forward in building community trust and transparency,” the board matter said. “They also help quell fear in our community and ensure everyone feels comfortable getting the assistance they need from local government.”
The immigrant rights groups ACLU People Power Fairfax and CASA hailed the trust policy as “a major victory” after a four-year campaign urging Fairfax County to bar agencies from voluntarily disclosing information to ICE.
Advocates have argued that information-sharing with ICE can undermine public safety, as fear of detention or deportation discourages immigrants from reporting crimes, seeking medical attention, going to school, accessing basic needs assistance, and utilizing other critical local government services.
CASA says Fairfax County’s new policy is the first of its kind in Virginia.
“For four years, we have marched, spoken out and stood up for our rights as immigrants, and now we can finally breathe easier,” Luis Aguilar, CASA’s Virginia state director, said. “We are grateful for the leadership of Chairman McKay and Fairfax County Board of Supervisors, who stood strongly in support of immigrant families by voting through this critical county policy change.”
The Board of Supervisors directed staff to draft the new policy last year. McKay credits ACLU People Power Fairfax and CASA with helping develop the policy.
According to the board matter, the trust policy is intended to complement a Fairfax County Police Department general order that established more robust guidelines regarding the FCPD’s role in civil immigration cases and interactions with immigrants.
Implemented on May 6, the general order expanded on an existing directive that instructed officers against taking individuals into custody or reporting them to ICE solely on the basis of an outstanding civil administrative warrant.
Under the new trust policy, Fairfax County employees are now prohibited from:
- Disclosing personal identifying information about individuals, such as their citizenship or immigration status, unless required by law or the individual has given their permission
- Providing access to county facilities, records, or funds not accessible to the public unless mandated by law, court order, or a criminal warrant
- Using county resources to provide information to federal immigration enforcement officials
- Threatening, coercing, or intimidating individuals based on their actual or perceived citizenship or immigration status
- Participating in civil immigration enforcement operations
The policy also directs county agencies to accept driver’s licenses, passports, and other photo documents issued by a state or foreign government or an approved nonprofit as sufficient to verify an individual’s identity or address.
“The Trust Policy breaks new ground in Virginia by prohibiting voluntary cooperation with ICE,” ACLU People Power Fairfax Lead Advocate Diane Burkley Alejandro said. “…ICE has exploited the weaknesses of Virginia privacy laws to obtain contact information to track down its ‘targets.’ Thanks to Chairman McKay and the Board, Fairfax now has guardrails in place to prevent this happening here.”
Staff photo by Jay Westcott