Virginia police officer suspended for turning undocumented immigrant over to ICE

(Image: ice.gov)

A Virginia police officer is being “punished” after he turned over an illegal immigrant to federal authorities.

The unnamed officer, who has been with the Fairfax County Police Department for a few years, apparently was “confused” and had a “lapse in judgment” according to the police chief,  The Washington Post reported.

(Video: Twitter/Fox News)

“Our police officer violated our longstanding policy and deprived a person of their freedom, which is unacceptable,”  Fairfax County Police Chief Edwin C. Roessler Jr. said in a statement released Tuesday.

While responding to a traffic accident on Sept. 21, the officer found that one of the drivers involved didn’t have a Virginia driver’s license. Once he checked in with the state Department of Motor Vehicles, the officer learned that the driver in question had failed to appear for a deportation hearing and had a violation against him from Immigration and Customs Enforcement, according to the statement.

Once the warrant was verified through the Fairfax County Department of Public Safety Communications, he contacted the ICE agent listed on the warrant. Though the officer ticketed the driver for driving without a license, he held him “under custodial detention” until the ICE agent, who was nearby, arrived on the scene.

The officer turned the driver over to the federal agent despite a 2007 policy enacted by the Fairfax County Police Department which prohibits law enforcement from checking immigration status and taking an individual into custody based solely on civil violations of immigration law. Only those who are arrested for a crime can have their immigration status checked once they are booked at the county jail.

“This is an unfortunate issue where the officer was confused,” Roessler told The Washington Post.

“We have trained on this issue a lot. This is the first time we’ve had a lapse in judgment, and the officer is being punished,” he added, explaining that the unnamed officer had been on the job for only a “few years.”

Acting Director of Citizenship and Immigration Services, Ken Cuccinelli – a former Virginia attorney general – slammed the “pathetic” decision.

Roessler, who noted that the officer had not willfully violated the policy in the liberal jurisdiction, said that the officer realized he had made a mistake.

“Our county is one of the most diverse counties in the nation and no one should have the perception that FCPD is acting as a civil immigration agent for ICE,” he said.

The police chief indicated in his statement that officers are trained at the police academy and subsequent refresher sessions that “we do not enforce nor detain for administrative warrants and we have no authority to enforce federal law.”

“We have been informed by ICE that the driver was released after three hours and issued an ankle monitor,” Roessler said in the statement.

“When I learned of this event, I directed an immediate internal investigation to look at all factors in this matter to ensure that all are held accountable for this violation,” he added. “This matter damages our reputation and the longstanding policy that I have stated many times that our officers shall not act as immigration agents.”

The officer was reportedly relieved of his duties pending the outcome of an investigation.

Immigration advocates were predictably upset by the police officer acting on a federal warrant and turning over an individual illegally residing in the U.S. who violated an order to appear at a hearing.

“It’s clear that more training is needed within the ranks of FCPD,” Simon Sandoval-Moshenberg, legal director for the Legal Aid Justice Center, told The Washington Post. “This is complicated stuff, but lives are on the line and families can be destroyed when an officer gets it wrong.”

The director of Virginia’s Court Appointed Special Advocate Program noted the distrust between immigrant communities and authorities.

“There is a very low trust with any government institution given the current situation with the Trump administration,” Luis Aguilar said. “With incidents like this, they’ve added to the distrust.”

Protests in Northern Virginia forced federal authorities to scrap plans for a center for unaccompanied minor children this week as Fairfax County continues to advocate for illegal immigrants and resist working with ICE. The Fairfax County sheriff last year broke from a previous agreement with ICE that would hold undocumented immigrant inmates past their prison sentences, The Post reported. And earlier this year, a legal fund was set up by Fairfax County to assist illegal immigrants in their fight against deportation.

Twitter users were outraged by the suspension of the Virginia police officer.

Frieda Powers

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