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November 26, 2018

The ACLU of Virginia is suing Culpeper County Sheriff Scott Jenkins and the local board of supervisors over an unauthorized agreement to use county resources to enforce federal immigration laws.

Sheriff Jenkins entered into the contract with U.S. Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE) – known as a 287(g) agreement – in April. Under it, sheriff’s deputies are delegated to perform certain functions of ICE officers, including questioning people about their immigration status and detaining them as if in ICE custody, even for civil violations of immigration laws.

Virginia is a “Dillon Rule” state, however, meaning local governments only have authority to take actions specifically authorized by the state Constitution or legislature. Neither authorizes localities or constitutional officers to voluntarily take on the responsibility to enforce federal immigration law directly or to spend local tax revenues to do so.

“This isn’t complicated,” said ACLU of Virginia Legal Director Eden Heilman. “If the state constitution or the General Assembly hasn’t said to localities, ‘You can do this,’ they can’t do it.”

The lawsuit, filed today in Culpeper County Circuit Court, is the result of a pro bono partnership between the ACLU of Virginia and McGuireWoods LLP. Sheriff Jenkins is identified as a defendant in the lawsuit because he is the local official who entered into the 287(g) agreement, and the board of supervisors is a defendant because it allocates funding to the sheriff’s department that is being used without authority to enforce federal immigration law.

“While ICE does pay for expenses for training officers and some other direct costs, there is no question that local dollars still come into play by, among other things, paying for the salaries and benefits of officers who are under direct and exclusive federal control,” Heilman added.

The complaint lists unauthorized spending for salary and personnel incidentals, training, security equipment, technology incidentals, and administrative supplies, among the costs imposed on local taxpayers by the agreement. The lawsuit asks the court to order the county to terminate the agreement and stop enforcing federal immigration law immediately.

“Culpeper residents need to know that these agreements actually make communities less safe,” said Heilman. “They create fear among immigrants, documented or undocumented, that reporting crimes or otherwise cooperating with law enforcement as a victim or witness will lead to their status being questioned and ultimately being deported,” Heilman said. “This hamstrings the ability of local law enforcement to solve crimes and put real criminals behind bars.”