Local Commentary

Our Man in Arlington

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Like many jurisdictions, Arlington is adjusting to the Trump administration’s immigration crackdown – but with its own twist.

At the Arlington Committee of 100’s Sept. 13 dinner, three local specialists described the county’s approach to handling its estimated 17,000 undocumented residents – one that stays within the law but resists the federal push for local cooperation with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).

Arlington actually has fewer foreign-born residents than it did the previous decade, said Simon Sandoval-Moshenberg of the Legal Aid Justice Center. The census number dropped from 30 percent in 2000 to 20 percent in 2010 – largely because of dwindling affordable housing.

But our workplaces, homes and schools host our share of the 800,000 young “dreamers” nationwide who qualified for President Obama’s relaxed deportation threat under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program. Add another 300,000 refugees from Central American civil wars who have “temporary protective status.”

Virginia hosts 12,000 dreamers, 700 of whom are studying at Northern Virginia Community College and 400 at George Mason University, Sandoval-Moshenberg said.

Trump’s pursuit of illegals in the name of preserving jobs and public safety has not been seen, the attorney said, since the Eisenhower administration deported Mexican farmworkers under “Operation Wetback.”

Laura Newton, director of student services for Arlington schools, said the DACA dispute and the recent racial violence in Charlottesville have left foreign-born families worried and fearful. Under a 1982 Supreme Court decision, school officials never ask for immigration papers, she stressed. APS welcomes all students to the system’s vision for “diversity and inclusion.” Schools usually learn a family is vulnerable to deportation only when a student displays behavior issues.

Superintendent Patrick Murphy on Sept. 6 sent out a mass email expressing “dismay” at the crackdown. Anti-bullying policies call out discrimination against immigrants, Newton said. She recommended that parents from undocumented families keep records up to date and engage in the PTA.

Law enforcement in Arlington follows all laws and maintains good relations with federal agencies, including ICE, despite the threat of losing grant money, said Deputy Sheriff David Kidwell. He disclosed that Arlington does not turn arrestees over to ICE unless the sheriff first receives an extradition order signed by a judge or magistrate.

In most cases, with the county board and state attorney general’s backing, sheriffs merely notify ICE 48 hours before a detainee is to be released from jail. That means the feds, if circumstances warrant, can come pick up the undocumented immigrant, but at no expense to local taxpayers, he said.

There’s an unresolved clash. The Justice Department presents orders from ICE to turn over jailed illegals “as legal and binding.” Kidwell said, “We disagree.”

I asked whether there was consensus that the Trump crackdown is unfair; the school official said she’d heard no protests.

But last week’s Sun-Gazette published a letter from a parent complaining about the superintendent’s email. APS “should steer well clear of involvement in national politics,” wrote David Henshaw. One “impact of the political statement is that teachers in the district are emboldened to promote their political ideologies.”

Sandoval-Moshenberg noted that undocumented immigrants are not entitled to legal aid and representation is pricey. He applauded Arlington for being the first jurisdiction in the South to provide a budget ($100,000) for their education and legal aid. We live in an era, he said, “when old assumptions need to be revisited.”

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A sign the debate over removing Confederate names from local institutions is getting serious:

The historical marker created to commemorate the nine-decade historic status of Washington-Lee High School, which, as I reported, was set to be mounted the first week of school, was not.

W-L alums informed me it is sitting in a warehouse pending resolution of the name controversy.