Employees in Fairfax County, Va. — just outside of Washington, D.C. — are officially prohibited from working with federal immigration agents, in a move to help illegal immigrants who reportedly avoided getting help during the COVID-19 pandemic for fear of being deported.
The long-standing practice known as the “Trust Policy” was formally adopted in a 9-to-1 vote by the county’s Board of Supervisors on Tuesday, the Washington Post reported. The rule bars any county employees from pursuing or sharing information about an individual’s immigration status, unless required by state or federal law, a court order, or judicial warrant.
Co-sponsored with Supervisors Dalia A. Palchik (D-Providence) and John W. Foust (D-Drainesville), the rule expands on move made by the Fairfax County police department last year that prohibits officers from asking individuals about their immigration status or providing information to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).
“We need to be very clear about what our expectations are,” said board Chairman and policy sponsor Jeff C. McKay (D-At Large). “Immigration enforcement is done by others.”
According to county officials, fears of deportation have stopped residents from requesting county services that exist to help those affected by COVID-19.
“There are folks in our community who are fearful and they are not willing to come forward and ask for help, because they think they’re going to put themselves in jeopardy,” said Supervisor Rodney L. Lusk (D-Lee).
Around 58,000 county residents have contracted the coronavirus, with almost one third of those infected being Latino, the county health department stated.
The only dissenting vote was case by Supervisor Pat Herrity (R-Springfield), who opposed an aspect of the policy that allows Fairfax County employees to take nongovernmental identification during service requests, a move Herrity believed put the county as risk.
Luis Aguilar, the Virginia state director for the immigration advocacy group CASA, praised the new policy.
“For four years, we have marched, spoken out and stood up for our rights as immigrants, and now we can finally breathe easier,” Luis Aguilar, Virginia state director of the CASA immigrant advocacy group, said in a statement. “We are grateful for the leadership of Chairman McKay and Fairfax County Board of Supervisors, who stood strongly in support of immigrant families by voting through this critical county policy change. The majority of the Fairfax County government can continue building trust from its residents and its representative local government, services, and police department.”
Diane Burkley Alejandro, Lead Advocate for ACLU People Power Fairfax, echoed Aguilar, adding that ICE “exploited the weaknesses” in Virginia’s privacy laws in an effort to track down “targets.”
“The Trust Policy breaks new ground in Virginia by prohibiting voluntary cooperation with ICE. Its adoption of a “don’t ask, don’t tell” standard for all residents’ personal information also makes it a national leader in privacy protection,” Burkley said.