This November and December, the DC Council will vote on permanent legislation to strengthen the city’s policies limiting collaboration between Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and local law enforcement. This legislation comes at a critical juncture for the future of sanctuary policy in DC and across the country. While the incoming Biden administration may make modest reforms around the edges of the American immigration system, it is unlikely that ICE under Biden will meaningfully depart from its long-standing practice of aggressively deputizing local law enforcement to help detain and deport immigrants.
As we move past the era of Trump and into a new administration, DC has the opportunity to live up to its long-stated claims of being a sanctuary city and to lead the way in building a broader sanctuary: one that not only refuses to facilitate federal immigration enforcement, but also seeks to actively disrupt the functioning of the deportation machine. The first step is passing the permanent version of the Sanctuary Values Act with all the changes proposed by advocates. The next step is identifying and implementing creative solutions — rooted in principles of abolition — for keeping DC residents out of the hands of ICE.
The first step is passing the permanent version of the Sanctuary Values Act with all the changes proposed by advocates.
Building on the temporary version of the Sanctuary Values Act, which primarily limits information-sharing between the DC Jail and ICE, the permanent law as proposed by the ICE Out of DC Coalition would unequivocally bar all DC agencies from transferring locally charged individuals into ICE custody, ban ICE interviews in the DC jail, and add reporting requirements to ensure ongoing compliance with the law. This permanent law addresses significant loopholes in DC’s existing sanctuary policy through which DC law enforcement agencies have continued to hand people over to ICE.
But the permanent Sanctuary Values Act alone cannot make DC a true sanctuary city. If we understand “sanctuary” as the act of affirmatively and defiantly standing up against inhumane federal immigration enforcement and showing up in unconditional solidarity with immigrant communities, then DC continues to fall far short. When an individual is arrested in DC, they are carried off to await arraignment at the federally-funded DC Superior Courthouse, where the U.S. Marshals — who act as courthouse bailiffs — routinely hold individuals they suspect to be undocumented until ICE can come take them. The Marshals’ cooperation with ICE to detain DC residents violates DC’s autonomy and contradicts our vision for Statehood. DC leaders should press the Biden Administration to keep ICE out of our courthouse. Yet even if the Marshals or DC law enforcement officers do not directly communicate with ICE about a particular DC resident, that person’s location in local criminal custody makes them vulnerable to ICE enforcement.
If we understand “sanctuary” as the act of affirmatively and defiantly standing up against inhumane federal immigration enforcement and showing up in unconditional solidarity with immigrant communities, then DC continues to fall far short.
In order to meaningfully disrupt the oppressive systems that detain and deport our neighbors, DC must enact holistic policies that reduce the scope of police power and carceral institutions and move us closer toward the goal of abolition. One of the many feasible steps that can be taken in this direction is the expansion of citation release, a longstanding but infrequently used practice through which police officers issue a citation directing a person to appear later in court instead of taking the person into physical custody. If applied to most criminal offenses, policies like citation release would not only keep individuals out of the jails, police stations, and courtrooms from which they may be transferred to ICE, but they would also move us a little closer toward the broader liberation of criminalized Black and Brown communities. The expansion of citation release can also help shift the discussion surrounding sanctuary policy from an emphasis on protecting crime victims and improving police-community relations toward an unapologetic, abolitionist belief in our ability to keep ourselves safe without resorting to punitive institutions that divide society into good and bad.
Call your DC councilmembers and encourage them to pass the permanent version of the Sanctuary Values Act in its most comprehensive form — with all the amendments proposed by advocates. Let’s start there, and then let’s keep working to build a city that lives up to its claims of being a sanctuary for all.
Austin Rose is a Sanctuary DMV organizer, law student, and aspiring immigration attorney interested in criminal-immigration intersections and anti-detention litigation.
Sanctuary DMV is an all-volunteer solidarity collective resisting harmful policies & practices targeting migrants in DC, Maryland & Virginia. We are committed to abolition at every level, including the complete defunding and dismantling of immigration detention, jails, prisons, ICE, and the police.