Frequently Asked Questions
Updated: March 4, 2011
Pursuant to an October 2009 agreement between the Virginia State Police (VSP) and the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), all counties in Virginia are now covered by the Secure Communities Program. This federal program has caused significant concerns and anxiety in our community. To help explain how the initiative has not changed any policies or procedures in Arlington, the County held a Latino Roundtable at the Arlington Career Center on June 17, 2010. At the event, residents raised a number of questions, which we are sharing here, along with answers.
Arlington County will engage in an ongoing dialogue on this issue, and we will continue to update these Frequently Asked Questions. Please send your questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Question: When and why did Arlington County make an agreement to implement Secure Communities?
Answer: Arlington County did not sign any agreement with state or federal officials and did not make a decision to participate in the Secure Communities program.
Because all Virginia localities, including Arlington, are required under state law to collect fingerprints and submit them to the VSP, no agreement with Arlington or any other local jurisdiction in the Commonwealth was necessary for federal and state representatives to implement this program.
The VSP entered into a Memorandum of Agreement with DHS on Oct. 1, 2009, and beginning April 13, 2010, all fingerprints collected by the Arlington County Sheriff’s office are sent to the VSP who now send them to both the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) within DHS.
Question: Is the Secure Communities Program the result of a federal law?
Answer: Yes. While the program itself is new, the U.S. has had long-standing federal laws to permit the deporting individuals who are (1) illegally present in the U.S. or (2) here legally but deportable as a result of a criminal offense. The Secure Communities Program was created in 2008 in response to direction from Congress contained in Public Law 110-161, which directed the Secretary of Homeland Security to “improve and modernize efforts to identify and remove aliens convicted of a crime, sentenced to imprisonment, and who may be deportable, and remove them from the United States once they are judged deportable.” To further these efforts, Congress has appropriated a total of $1.4 billion to ICE over the last three fiscal years.
Question: Specifically, how does this program work?
Answer: The Secure Communities Program links two federal databases – the FBI’s Automated Fingerprint Identification System (IAFIS) and DHS’s United States Visitor and Immigrant Status Indicator Technology Program (US-VISIT) Automated Biometric Identification System (IDENT) – to efficiently check both databases to confirm the identity, criminal history, and immigration status of the individual being processed.
Prior to the implementation of Secure Communities, a query by a state or local law enforcement agency to the FBI’s criminal database did not result in a query to DHS’s immigration database. Read more information.
Question: What are deportable offenses?
Answer: Any individual illegally present in the U.S. is always eligible for deportation. For individuals who are legally present, a number of offenses make them eligible for deportation under the Immigration and Nationality Act. Learn more on the ICE website.
Question: Does Arlington County have a choice to not comply with the law?
Answer: No. In a letter to the Arlington County Manager dated March 1, 2011, U.S. Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE) informed Arlington County that Arlington is unable to opt out of, or withdraw from, the Secure Communities Program. In its letter, ICE states that since the biometric information sharing occurs at the federal level, “all criminal fingerprint transactions submitted to the Federal Bureau of Investigation are automatically checked against the Department of Homeland Security System.”
Question: Can Arlington elect to not honor an immigration detainer issued by ICE?
Answer: No. All State and local officials are required by federal regulation to honor detainers under 8 C.F.R. § 287.7, which states that “upon determination by the Department to issue a detainer for an alien not otherwise detained by a criminal justice agency, such agency shall maintain custody of the alien for a period not to exceed 48 hours, excluding Saturdays, Sundays and holidays in order to permit assumption of custody by the Department.”
Question: Are other Virginia jurisdictions covered by Secure Communities?
Answer: Yes. As of June 21, 2010, Secure Communities covers every county in the Commonwealth. Additionally, DHS is under a Congressional mandate to cover every jurisdiction in the nation by 2013.
Question: How can I file a complaint against ICE?
Answer: ICE is required by law to investigate complaints of abuse of civil rights, civil liberties, and profiling on the basis of race, ethnicity, or religion, by employees and officials of the Department of Homeland Security. Read more information on the complaint process.
About Arlington County Policies and Procedures
Question: Why was there no community process regarding this program?
Answer: Arlington County did not have a choice of whether or not to become an “activated community” under the Secure Communities Program, and we were given 24 hours notice by the Virginia State Police and DHS that fingerprints collected in Arlington would now be checked against the federal immigration database.
Since learning about the program, Arlington begun to provide information to our residents and began a community dialogue on how we can work together to ensure that this federal program does not create divisions in our community. Arlington is committed to continuing our tradition of open and direct discussion with all our residents.
Question: When does Arlington check the immigration status of persons who come into contact with the Police Department or the Sheriff’s office?
Answer: Arlington County has not, does not, and will not perform immigration status checks on our residents or visitors. We will not arrest individuals to determine their immigration status. Any immigration status check is performed by ICE upon the receipt of fingerprints from the VSP.
Question: How can individuals file a complaint against the Arlington County Police Department?
Answer: All residents are encouraged to contact the Arlington County Police Department if they believe a police officer or employee has acted inappropriately or violated the law. Arlington County reviews and investigates these matters thoroughly. Download the complaint form.
Question: Is the legal presence of a victim of a crime checked?
Answer: No, not as a matter of standard procedure. A person’s right to file a police report, participate in police or community activities or benefit from county services is not dependent on citizenship or immigration status. Arlington County encourages all residents and visitors who are the victim of, or witness to, a crime to report it promptly to the Police Department. Call 9-1-1 for emergencies or 703-558-2222 for non-emergency help.