Guest Post: All Hands on Deck to Round Up Immigrants

Guest Post: All Hands on Deck to Round Up Immigrants
Guest Writer: Hassan Ahmad
Democratic Candidate, VA House District 87

On January 17, 2019 the Republican majority of the Virginia Senate voted to pass SB1156, a bill to ostensibly prohibit restriction of enforcement of federal immigration laws. It now heads to the Counties, Cities, and Towns Committee in the House of Delegates.

If they knew what they were passing, perhaps they wouldn’t have been so quick to fall back on party lines.

The entirety of the bill adds a new section §15.2-1409.1 to the Code of Virginia:

Establishment of sanctuary policies prohibited.

No locality shall adopt any ordinance, procedure, or policy that restricts the enforcement of federal immigration laws.

This bill is short on text, but make no mistake: it is full of racist rhetoric.

I’ve practiced immigration law for 15 years. Let’s break down the language of the bill:

  1. Sanctuary policy: This term itself is a misnomer. It creates the impression that inside a sanctuary, federal immigration law doesn’t apply. It does. It always has. The anti-immigrant movement has coopted this term to create the impression that sanctuaries restrict deportation enforcement.
  2. Restriction: This is the central issue. If a locality (town, city, county, or even the whole Commonwealth) decides not to assist ICE in its mandate to detain and deport, is it “restricting” ICE? Of course not. It’s no different from a child complaining other kids should be required to do his homework. Our law enforcement has enough on its plate than to add deportation duty.
  3. Immigration enforcement: ICE doesn’t enforce immigration law. It enforces deportation law. Let’s not conflate the two. There are a lot of immigration laws and policies ICE (as a whole) cannot or does not enforce: administrative closure, prosecutorial discretion, reopening, reconsideration, relief like asylum, cancellation of removal, or readjustment of status.

Put simply, there’s a difference between requiring assistance and refusing assistance. What Sen. Dick Black is really saying is he wants all hands on deck when it comes to rounding up immigrants and putting them into the deportation machine. That’s what the Senate voted for.

Why should our law enforcement be burdened with deportation duty? Did they ask for it? What about the trust that erodes between our immigrant communities and law enforcement? Measures like Senator Black’s erode trust between our aspiring American communities and law enforcement when they’re afraid to call the police.

On the same day as the Senate voted to pass this hateful bill, I testified in support of Delegate Alfonso Lopez’s bill, H.B. 2392, which would end citizenship inquiries in jails and for crime victims and their families. I informed the committee that lawful immigration status is not a black and white issue: it often takes me hours of research to determine whether someone has the right to stay in the United States, and hundreds more hours if a trial is necessary. Many US citizens were once undocumented, and many immigrants with lawful status today may one day be “de-documented.”

This is not about being soft on crime. People must pay their dues if they break the law – but only what they owe. If we are a country of laws, we must ensure the punishment fits the crime. And we must not mete out criminal-like punishment without corresponding constitutional safeguards, which is exactly what happens in the Draconian deportation system every day. It’s a due process black hole, and Senator Black wants to feed it.

It’s not surprising where he gets his ideas. For example, Senator Black was invited in 2016 to speak before the Writers Workshop put on yearly by the Social Contract Press. (Other invitees include such A listers like Ann Coulter). This is a white nationalist organization, rabidly anti-immigrant, and brainchild of Dr. John Tanton, architect of the anti-immigrant movement. (I have a lawsuit pending against the University of Michigan to unseal his papers, as they shed a light on the ideological underpinnings of this movement which has an outsized influence in the current White House.) Senator Black has a long history of supporting racist and divisive legislation. His Senate district has moved well past him, as has the Commonwealth, as has America.

The Senators who voted with Senator Black should be ashamed for supporting policies birthed in a crucible of bigotry. The House should kill this bill swiftly.

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