In response to executive orders from President Donald Trump that expand Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents’ criteria for detaining and deporting people in the United States illegally, elected officials are speaking out against the action, as well as condemning recent activity by ICE officials to round up known immigrant criminals.
“These new policies of the Trump administration exist to incite fear,” U.S. Rep. Don Beyer (D-8) said at a press conference held March 2 at Rising Hope Mission Church in the Mount Vernon area of Alexandria. “They exist to make immigrants feel unwelcome, to make them flee. We are here to make sure that we do not destroy the remarkable, inimitable fabric of our nation of immigrants with scorched earth immigration policies.”
Early in the morning on Feb. 8, multiple witnesses say ICE agents quickly surrounded guests leaving the hypothermia shelter being offered at Rising Hope. They said Latino men in particular were singled out from the group, questioned and had their fingers scanned. Six or seven of them were allegedly shackled, loaded into vans and driven away.
When asked about this account, an ICE official would only confirm that two men were arrested from that location on that date and time, and that ICE’s sensitive locations policy says operations aren’t to be carried out at places of worship.
RISING HOPE’S PASTOR Rev. Dr. Keary Kincannon said the hypothermia shelter is an important lifeline to a lot of people in the community, providing up to 170 bed-nights per week.
“When ICE swooped in, it was an attack on the practicing of our faith, our religion,” Kincannon said at the press conference. “This kind of activity has to stop, this needs to be the last time.”
Kincannon said they’re called to serve humanity, regardless of their status.
Sen. Tim Kaine (D) described a letter he’d received from a girl in fourth grade — in it she wrote she was sorry he had lost the presidential election with running mate Hillary Clinton, but that he had still had important work to do.
“Stop my classmates from being deported,” Kaine said she wrote. “Be the hero.”
“The letter was about fear,” Kaine continued, making statements in both English and Spanish. “The policies of this administration are policies that divide and create fear. If you do things that make our immigrant communities afraid of law enforcement, our entire communities become less safe.”
Kaine said he was there to stand together against the new immigration policies and in support of comprehensive immigration reform.
Congressional Hispanic Caucus Chairwoman from New Mexico U.S. Rep. Michelle Lujan Grisham (D-1) said reformed policies should “recognize the economic and social contributions of immigrants and uphold the protections in our Constitution.”
ICE detaining people without due process, Grisham said, is an affront to the values of the United States and “should scare every American.”
“We do not support immigration policies that make all undocumented people priorities for enforcement,” she said. “I just can’t believe this, this is where we are headed.”
Democratic Caucus Vice-Chairwoman from California U.S. Rep. Linda Sánchez (D-38) said she had recently met with both President Donald Trump and the acting director of ICE. She told Trump what happened at Rising Hope was not an isolated issue and was “appalling, wrong.”
“ICE has been using heavy-handed tactics to intentionally incite fear in immigrant communities,” Sánchez said. “However, raids do not make our neighborhoods safer or fix our broken immigration system.”
Immigration lawyer Nicholas Marritz from the Legal Aid Justice Center in Falls Church said there is a lot of fear in the immigrant community following Trump’s orders and ICE’s activity — real or perceived.
He said he and others have tried numerous times to get ICE to respond with their own account of the events of Feb. 8 at Rising Hope, as well as the names of the men who were detained there. Without them, Marritz said, it’s difficult to build a case. So far ICE has refused to give them a substantial response.
AT THE PRESS CONFERENCE, Marritz translated a statement from a woman in the United States illegally but with children born here. Through Marritz, she said she doesn’t feel like she can leave her home freely in this climate.
“Mr. President,” Marritz translated for her, “you cannot make us criminals in our country. Give us an opportunity to come out of the shadows, into the light, to show what we can do. ¡Basta ya! Enough is enough!”
“I would ask the President that he govern with wisdom,” the woman continued as Marritz translated, “because all of us who live in this country and under this flag have rights. May he respect the dignity of all human beings who live in the United States.”
“‘We The People’ make America great,” she concluded, in English.
Standing in solidarity with the speakers were state Sen. Scott Surovell (D-36), state Sen. Barbara Favola (D-31), state Sen. Adam Ebbin (D-30), Del. Paul Krizek (D-44), Arlington County Board Vice-Chair Katie Cristol, Alexandria Mayor Allison Silberberg and Fairfax County School Board Member Karen Corbett Sanders.
The elected officials were joined by leaders from other non-governmental organizations working on behalf of undocumented individuals and families, including representatives from ACLU of Virginia, Lenka Mendoza of Dreamers Moms in Action, and Michelle LaRue of CASA attended to endorse the rights of Virginia’s undocumented population.