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DC Council: Pass the Sanctuary Values Act and Keep DC Families Safe and Together

By Julie Mao

Just Futures Law
Oct 8 · 5 min read
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Photo by Brandon Wu

[Editor’s Note: On October 1, the DC City Council’s Committee on the Judiciary and Public Safety held a hearing on the Sanctuary Values Amendment Act. The proposed permanent legislation would prevent DC agencies, including the DC Jail and Metropolitan Police Department, from collaborating with ICE to facilitate the detention and deportation of immigrants. In October 2019, the DC Council approved a temporary version of the bill. The current Sanctuary Values Amendment Act, if passed, would become a permanent law. Portions of the below statement were made during the hearing.]

Dear Chairperson Allen, Councilmembers, and Staff of the Committee,

My name is Julie Mao. I am the Deputy Director of Just Futures Law, an immigration and civil rights law office based in DC. As an attorney, I’ve represented hundreds of immigrants in deportation proceedings and worked with other localities across the country to end their collaboration with ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement).

I am proud to speak today to my own community and urge this Council to pass the Sanctuary Values Amendment Act. As an immigrant and as an immigration attorney, who has had to tell so many DC families about the deportation of a loved one, I know firsthand just how traumatic and devastating deportations have been to this community. Deportation has a huge impact on DC residents: one in 7 D.C. residents is an immigrant; one in 9 D.C. residents has an immigrant parent. The deportation of a loved one causes deep emotional trauma and financial hardship even homelessness for the families left behind.

Julie Mao testifying at the Sanctuary Values Act Hearing on October 1st

The Sanctuary Values Amendment Act is the key piece of legislation keeping immigrant families together and safe from deportation. Moreover, it represents a first step towards reckoning with DC’s unjust and racist criminal legal system. While raids receive a lot of media attention, — an estimated 70% of all ICE arrests originate from local jail or police complicity with ICE. This is done through submission to ICE detainers or notification requests: a technical way of saying that a prison or police officer will call ICE to pick up a suspected immigrant or share the immigrant’s location with ICE agents so they can raid them later on. I want to re-emphasize that DC’s assistance to ICE is voluntary. It is not required by federal law. It is a choice and this Council can choose to pass a law limiting that collaboration.

Such collaboration effectively turns every MPD (Metropolitan Police Department) or DOC (Department of Corrections) officer — along with every stop and frisk detention and traffic arrest — into an arm of ICE’s deportation dragnet. Prior to [the Sanctuary Values Amendment Act], this was the harsh reality for DC immigrants. As an attorney, I often help families find immigrant loved ones who do not return home at the end of the day. I can’t emphasize how many disappearance cases involved some sort of initial DC police or jail contact and transfer to ICE.

This is why ending our police and prison’s collaboration with ICE, a notoriously abusive federal police force, is a first step and part of addressing the larger problems in DC’s criminal legal system. DC residents experience one of the highest rates of incarceration in the country. The protests and police violence this summer have reminded us that DC is far from being a sanctuary, particularly for its Black, brown, and immigrant communities. The Sanctuary Values Act is the only legislation preventing this unjust criminal legal system from funneling immigrants into ICE’s deportation pipeline.

As an attorney, I often help families find immigrant loved ones who do not return home at the end of the day. I can’t emphasize how many disappearance cases involved some sort of initial DC police or jail contact and transfer to ICE.

First, the Council should eliminate the blanket exception for the US Marshals agreement and replace it with a clearly defined exception: individuals awaiting trial for a federal charge or awaiting sentencing or serving a sentence for a federal offense. We ask that the Council explicitly except the category of persons that the US Marshals agreement applies, rather than make reference to an agreement whose terms could change in the future. This will avoid problems down the line where DOC or Marshals can unilaterally add new terms to the agreement that could render the law ineffectual.

Second, Council should limit the ability of DC detention facilities to serve as immigration detention centers. Prior to 2009, DOC allowed ICE to use the DC jail as an immigration detention center through a change to the aforementioned US Marshals agreement. If the DC jail were to again serve as an ICE detention center in the future, it would obviously create a huge loophole in this law.

The Sanctuary Values Act is the only legislation preventing this unjust criminal legal system from funneling immigrants into ICE’s deportation pipeline.

In conclusion, we need a strong permanent Sanctuary Values Act that leaves no one behind because our immigrant residents deserve real community safety instead of hate and scapegoating. That means investing in our health, hospitals, our education, and housing, not more prisons, police, or deportations.

The Sanctuary Values Act represents a critical law which ensures that immigrants are not punished even harsher by a criminal justice system that we know to be racist, unjust, and in desperate need of reform.

Thank you Chairperson Allen and Committee for your time.

Julie Mao is an immigration attorney and Deputy Director of Just Futures Law.

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Just Futures Law

Written by

Just Futures Law is a women of color led, transformative immigration law project rooted in movement lawyering.

Up, Up with Liberation

Up, Up with Liberation is a digital collective dedicated to liberation through creative expression. Born out of a community of organizers pursuing justice for immigrants and communities of color in the DMV, we are nurturing a culture of resistance through storytelling.

Just Futures Law

Written by

Just Futures Law is a women of color led, transformative immigration law project rooted in movement lawyering.

Up, Up with Liberation

Up, Up with Liberation is a digital collective dedicated to liberation through creative expression. Born out of a community of organizers pursuing justice for immigrants and communities of color in the DMV, we are nurturing a culture of resistance through storytelling.

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