Citing arrest of immigrants on Route 1, McAuliffe letter seeks answers from DHS and ICE


Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe sent a letter to DHS Secretary John Kelly on Thursday seeking more information about recent ICE operations in the state.

Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe is asking the Department of Homeland Security and the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency for answers after multiple reports published yesterday described the arrest and detention of Latino immigrants moments after they had exited a church shelter in the Route 1 area. 

McAuliffe’s letter, released Thursday evening, is addressed to DHS Secretary John Kelly. It asks a number of questions about ICE operations in the state, and refers specifically to enforcement actions on Richmond Highway last week. 

“I write today to request an immediate briefing from the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and its Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agency regarding recent and ongoing immigration enforcement and removal operations in the Commonwealth of Virginia,” McAualiffe wrote. “President Trump recently signed an executive order giving ICE agents much broader discretion with respect to which individuals they may target for removal from the country. I am particularly concerned about an NBC Washington report on recent activities in Alexandria, Virginia.”

The NBC Washington report cited by the governor depicted an incident across the street from Rising Hope Mission Church in the Mount Zephyr area of Richmond Highway. Multiple witnesses who use the church’s hypothermia shelter told NBC Washington and other media outlets that ICE agents questioned and arrested multiple men in the Aldi shopping center, including some who had just exited the shelter around 6:45 a.m. 

An ICE spokeswoman did not confirm reports of Fairfax County enforcement operations when asked on Monday, saying any actions were routine enforcement measures. But on Wednesday the spokeswoman confirmed the operation near Rising Hope, but said that only two men were arrested and that ICE had followed rules that require the agency to avoid operations in “sensitive locations.”

The three Rising Hope guests who talked to reporters Tuesday told a different story. The men claimed that 6-7 individuals were arrested and taken away in large vans that already contained other detained men. They men also said they believe agents had targeted men who were using the church’s shelter. 

The Richmond Highway arrests came at the same time as increased ICE enforcement operations across the country, including sweeps last week that led to more than 680 arrests, according to a statement released by Kelly on Monday. The DHS secretary disputed the notion that the operations were any different from enforcement actions taken under the previous administration. 

“ICE conducts these kind of targeted enforcement operations regularly and has for many years,” Kelly said.

McAuliffe acknowledged the previous ICE operations in his letter, but said he was concerned that under the Trump administration the agency was casting a much broader net and using tactics that could make it harder for local police to do their jobs.

“These reports are anecdotal and I recognize that previous administrations have conducted immigration enforcement actions,” McAuliffe wrote. “However, the NBC report raises a concern that, unlike previous actions, ICE agents are detaining Virginia residents without cause or specific allegations of criminal activity.”

McAuliffe’s concerns echo those raised by Route 1-area politicians since reports of the ICE operations surfaced late last week. Del. Paul Krizek (D-44), a lifelong resident of area, said he cannot recall men ever being picked up outside a church, and said there are “far better ways to enforce immigration law.”

By creating mistrust in local immigrant communities, Krizek said,  ICE’s recent actions will ultimately have a negative effect on public safety and local law enforcement.

“I share the Governor’s concerns especially with respect to the chilling effect it will have in the immigrant community to report crimes,” Krizek said. “The police rely upon help and information from the community, and when folks stop trusting law enforcement they won’t cooperate with the police, which makes us all less safe.”