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House passes bill targeting undocumented immigrants

RICHMOND, Va. — Local law enforcement officials would be required to hold undocumented immigrants in jail past their scheduled release dates under legislation approved this week by the House of Delegates.

Del. Bob Marshall, R-Prince William, proposed HB 1468, which would prohibit officials from releasing an incarcerated undocumented immigrant until the individual has been received by the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement service.

The bill requires law enforcement officials to hold undocumented detainees “in excess of their scheduled release date,” which would mean keeping them in jail for an additional, undetermined period of time until they can be passed over to ICE.

The bill passed Wednesday on a mostly party-line 68-31 vote and was sent to the Senate.

Marshall said that Virginia law enforcement agencies often do not comply with ICE detainment orders and that many undocumented immigrants are released before immigration arrives.

“I would suggest, to avoid sanctions of any kind that may come from the Trump administration for non-compliance, that we make an effort to comply,” Marshall said.

Del. Alfonso H. Lopez, D-Arlington, opposed the bill.

“This legislation would cause unnecessary confusion for localities and to how long they’re required to detain somebody,” Lopez said. “Virginia’s local and regional jails shouldn’t have to choose between a confusingly written state law and violating people’s constitutional rights by holding them past their release date without an order signed by a judge.”

Virginia law gives discretion to state and local enforcement officials when they decide how to respond to detainer orders from ICE.

Although the bill is awaiting a vote in the Senate Courts of Justice Committee, HB 1468 may have an uncertain fate. Last year, Gov. Terry McAuliffe vetoed identical legislation sponsored by Marshall. The House attempted to override the veto but came up two votes short.

The Virginia ACLU also opposes the bill, echoing Lopez’s concerns. Charlie Schmidt, a public policy associate for the ACLU, said the bill would confuse law enforcement officers regarding which laws they should follow.

Undocumented immigration is a civil detainer issued by ICE, meaning local officials cannot lawfully keep undocumented immigrants in jail unless they’re also charged with a crime. Marshall’s bill would create a gray area between judges’ orders and ICE detainment orders.

“They’re opening themselves up to a tremendous amount of civil liability,” Schmidt said.

Marshall’s HB 1468 passed in the House of Delegates in the same week that President Trump began signing a series of executive actions restricting immigrants and immigration.

On Wednesday, Trump ordered the construction on his often-promised wall along the U.S.-Mexico border. He issued another order to cut federal funding to cities that have declared themselves as sanctuaries for undocumented immigrants.

In coming days, Trump is expected to sign additional orders that would limit the flow of refugees into the U.S., restrict immigration from “terror-prone” regions and eliminate legal protection for young undocumented immigrants living in the U.S. under an Obama administration policy called Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals.

In response to Trump’s crackdown on sanctuary cities, Richmond Mayor Levar Stoney announced Thursday that, although Richmond is not a sanctuary city, he will work to protect undocumented families living here.

Similarly, Virginia Commonwealth University President Michael Rao has spoken out against eliminating President Obama’s 2012 executive action on DACA. The federal policy has allowed more than 728,000 undocumented students to legally drive, work and attend college, according to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services.

In a memo to VCU students and faculty on Friday, Rao announced that he has joined more than 600 other college presidents from around the country in signing a pledge to advocate for the rights of DACA students.

“All of our students contribute uniquely to the fabric of this community and deserve the opportunity to engage in educational pursuits that advance their careers, their families and our society,” Rao wrote.

While Rao has not committed to establishing VCU as a sanctuary campus, he has maintained his support for DACA and said his office “will continue to advocate that the promise made by the U.S government to afford rights and opportunities to young people brought to this country as children is kept.”

By Rodrigo Arriaza and Mary Lee Clark with Capital News Service

Capital News Service is a flagship program of VCU’s Robertson School of Media and Culture. Students participating in the program provide state government coverage for Virginia’s community newspapers and other media outlets, under the supervision of Associate Professor Jeff South.