A police officer in Virginia was suspended late last month after reporting a potential illegal immigrant to Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
Fairfax County Police Chief Edwin Roessler Jr. released a statement on Tuesday about the incident, which occurred on September 21. Roessler said the officer, who has not been named, was gathering details about a traffic accident when they discovered one of the driver’s involved did not have a Virginia Operator’s license. The officer obtained additional information from the driver to run a check with state DMV records. Upon doing so, the officer received a notification from ICE that the driver was wanted for failing to appear for a deportation hearing.
The officer contacted the ICE agent listed on the notification and was advised that they would arrive shortly. The officer then issued the driver a uniform summons for not having a license. The officer then detained the driver and handed them over to the ICE agent.
Roessler said that police officers are not to hand people over to ICE unless they are being arrested for another crime, citing FCPD General Order 601-Arrest procedures (VIII c. 5. 3.):
If the response reads “OUTSTANDING ADMINISTRATIVE WARRANT OF REMOVAL” and the individual is not in custody or being taken into custody for any other violation of law, officers shall not confirm the hit through LESC and shall not take the individual into custody based solely upon the IVF hit. The majority of such administrative warrants represent civil violations of immigration law.
Roessler also noted that police officers are trained extensively not to detain individuals “for administrative warrants” and said the FCPD has “no authority to enforce federal law.”
Roessler said the officer “deprived a person of their freedom, which is unacceptable.” ICE told the department that the driver was released with an ankle monitor after three hours in custody.
“When I learned of this event, I directed an immediate internal investigation to look at all factors in this matter to ensure that all are held accountable for this violation. Our county is one of the most diverse counties in the nation and no one should have the perception that FCPD is acting as a civil immigration agent for ICE,” Roessler said. “This matter damages our reputation and the longstanding policy that I have stated many times that our officers shall not act as immigration agents. The officer involved in this event has been relieved of all law enforcement duties pending the outcome of this investigation. It is my duty to enforce our FCPD — and Fairfax County — policies and hold all accountable for their actions.”
Roessler told The Washington Post that the officer who detained the immigrant had been a policeman for a “few years.” Roessler added that the officer did not willfully violate the department’s policy and was aware of his mistake.
“This is an unfortunate issue where the officer was confused,” Roessler told the outlet. “We have trained on this issue a lot. This is the first time we’ve had a lapse in judgment, and the officer is being punished.”