ACLU of Virginia Launches Immigrants' Rights Project

Immigrants are Virginians, and together, we'll make this a safe home for us all.

ACLU of Virginia has been working for more than fifty years to make liberty, justice, equity, inclusion, and dignity a reality for all people in the Commonwealth – regardless of their immigration status. 

Today we’re announcing a new Immigrants’ Rights project, grounded in the recognition that Virginia’s immigrant population has more than tripled over the past 30 years.  

More than 1 million immigrants live in the Commonwealth today, bringing a wealth of diversity to our communities from Richmond to Bristol and speaking languages that span the entire globe. Immigrants are an indispensable part of Virginia.  

Our goal is not simply to reveal the violations immigrants are experiencing in Virginia, but to begin the work of rectifying them. 

But too many face unacceptable violations of their civil rights in our Commonwealth.  

Those who come into contact with the criminal legal system are often punished twice or denied their fundamental rights altogether. Instead of being released to their families and communities after an arrest, they're often transferred to Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) detention and fast-tracked for deportation.  

Immigrants impacted by the criminal legal system also experience civil rights violations at the hands of Virginia localities when local law enforcement, tasked with upholding state criminal law, coordinate with federal agencies in civil immigration enforcement.   

For many localities, the allure of federal dollars in exchange for housing immigrants in civil detention facilities like jails and juvenile detention centers is too great to resist. 

Medical neglect, lack of access to counsel, and other violations have been reported in facilities at the top of Virginia in Winchester all the way to our southern border in Danville.  

That’s where we come in. For the first time, the ACLU of Virginia is launching a new Immigrants’ Rights project to tackle these issues. Our goal is to shed light on what ICE is up to in Virginia on behalf of a population often unable to speak out. 

We will work to reveal abuses in immigration apprehension and detention, focusing on enforcement methods like technology, surveillance, and dubious arrests. As part of our long-standing work on criminal legal reform, we’ll aim to expose the conditions at Virginia’s two dedicated immigration detention centers, Farmville and Caroline Detention Centers, and inform the public on how localities engage in federal immigration enforcement here in the Commonwealth. 

And that’s not all. Our goal is not simply to reveal the violations immigrants are experiencing in Virginia, but to begin the work of rectifying them. 

We are proud to join other organizations that have long advocated for immigrants in Virginia, recognizing that there is an incredible bench of expertise in the Commonwealth. Chief among them are immigrants themselves, who our organizers will work closely with to ensure we accurately understand and prioritize what they name as their most urgent needs. 

Our new Immigrants’ Rights project will bring extra firepower to the existing fight by using our signature mix of litigation, policy, and organizing capacity to advocate for fairness in Virginia courts.  

We’ll work to hold local law enforcement accountable for their actions, and we’ll defend civil liberties in ICE enforcement – all with the goal of eliminating abusive and dangerous conditions at immigration detention centers and ending the jail-to-deportation pipeline in Virginia.  

These are big goals, and an entirely new area of work for us.  

But we’ve already gotten started. Today we filed our first immigrants’ rights lawsuit, targeting the ICE Washington Field Office for its pattern of continuing the detention of people who have been granted humanitarian relief by an immigration judge. This practice is in direct contradiction to ICE’s public policy, and a violation of the civil rights of the people the field office is holding. 

You can read more about the case here.

We’ll keep you apprised of its developments – and of all our new work on behalf of immigrants’ rights. 

We’re proud to be in this work. Immigrants are Virginians, and together, we’ll make this a safe home for us all.