Immigration-rights advocates and lawmakers gathered outside the State Capitol today, February 27, to push Virginia's Law, a soon-to-be-introduced bill that would significantly bolster protections for undocumented immigrants in their dealings with local law enforcement.
The bill would prevent local law enforcement from detaining individuals, including anyone reporting or suspected of committing a crime, for Immigration and Customs Enforcement, and from notifying ICE about a detainee's jail-release date unless the federal agency presents a warrant.
"People need to feel confident in being able to report a crime," says Ana Temu, immigration campaign coordinator at the ACLU of Colorado. Undocumented immigrants are much less likely to call 911 for fear of repercussions because of their immigration status.
Virginia's Law would also designate public venues, such as hospitals and schools, as "safe spaces" for immigrants, or places where they couldn't be detained, and would block local law enforcement agencies from temporarily housing ICE detainees in jails. Virginia's Law would also require local law enforcement officers to advise individuals of their right to decline interview requests from ICE.
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Virginia's Law is named after Virginia Mancinas, a Colorado resident who reported a domestic-violence situation only to be arrested and put into deportation proceedings by immigration enforcement agents. Although Mancinas was eventually able to attain legal residency status, the bill's backers say it's designed so that someone in her situation would never have to worry about being detained by ICE for reporting a crime.
Legislators are working on more bills, including Representative Adrienne Benavidez's HB 1124, that would grant more protections for undocumented immigrants. HB 1124 would prevent local law enforcement agencies from using funds to enforce federal immigration law without a judicial warrant. It would also prohibit local law enforcement agencies from signing contracts with ICE that would allow officers to assist with immigration enforcement, much like the contract Teller County has that allows its deputies to carry out certain immigration proceedings.
HB 1124 will be heard in committee in March.