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October 22, 2020

Today the Virginia Supreme Court blocked taxpayers from bringing a lawsuit against the Culpeper Board of Supervisors and Culpeper Sheriff Scott Jenkins for entering into an agreement with the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) known as a 287(g) agreement. The court did not rule on the substantive question whether the sheriff’s action was authorized by law. Nonetheless, the Court affirmed the circuit court’s previous decision to dismiss the suit brought by the ACLU of Virginia on behalf of local residents and taxpayers Michael McClary and Christina Stockton ruling that the taxpayers didn’t have a legal right to bring such a lawsuit.

The 287(g) agreement deputizes the local sheriff’s department to use its time and resources enforcing federal civil immigration law instead of enforcing Virginia criminal law. The ACLU of Virginia alleged in its complaint that entering into a 287(g) agreement with ICE violates Virginia’s Dillon Rule, which limits any locality from operating outside the bounds set by the state legislature. The legislature has not given local governments the explicit authority to enter into such an agreement with federal agencies.

The ACLU of Virginia believes that, not only is Culpeper’s 287(g) agreement with ICE illegal, it makes the Culpeper community less safe. Anyone who is a victim of a crime or witnesses a crime – and is also an immigrant – will be less likely to speak to police for fear of deportation. Moreover, the ACLU of Virginia strongly believes that the Court’s narrow interpretation of the requirements of “standing” to bring lawsuits challenging local government action undermines the ability of Virginians to hold their public officials, including sheriffs and other law enforcement agencies, accountable in court when they violate the constitution or laws of Virginia or the United States. In this case, the Court’s decision encourages opaque bookkeeping by local governments as a means to avoid being called to account for illegal expenditures.

“The 287(g) agreement signed by the sheriff encourages racial profiling, erodes trust between police and the community, and wastes taxpayers’ money on targeting people of color. Culpeper residents should have the right to sue when their funds are used illegally,” said Eden Heilman, legal director for the ACLU of Virginia. “We call on the Virginia General Assembly to ban 287(g) agreements to protect all our communities and end this xenophobic policy in Culpeper.”

Prince William County recently ended its 287(g) agreement with ICE, leaving Culpeper County as the only remaining locality in Virginia volunteering to participate actively in and spend local tax dollars on enforcement of federal civil immigration law.