Letter to the Editor of the Virginian Pilot from Sheriff Joe Baron regarding the NSO's rider agreement with ICE

 FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:   Media Contact: Deanna LeBlanc
 September 21, 2019
(757) 589-5692
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Letter to the Editor of the Virginian Pilot from Sheriff Joe Baron
regarding the NSO's rider agreement with ICE 

“Norfolk sheriff ends controversial immigration detention program.” This article, dated September 19, 2019, portrays the expiration of a rider billing agreement with Immigration and Customs Enforcement as the result of political pressure based on protests and concerned citizens. I would like to set the record straight.

First, the agreement was neither “controversial” nor was it a “detention program.” The agreement was a tool which identified daily billing rates and expected levels of care for ICE responsible inmates when in our custody. Such agreements are authorized by the General Assembly in the Code of Virginia.

Second, there was little to no political pressure to end the agreement. I have the full support of local political leadership and there was a minimum amount of input from members of the community voicing concerns. In fact, there were as many supporting an agreement as there were those in opposition. With equal levels of support and non-support, the so called “pressure” was neutral and thus it is incorrect to conclude the agreement ended due to community outrage or political alignment.

Last year, Virginian Pilot reporter Jonathan Edwards made me aware ICE was bringing some detainees from outside our jurisdiction who only had “civil detainers.” This is prohibited by the Code of Virginia. I appreciated this information and my office immediately notified ICE to stop. ICE agreed. ICE no longer sends their detainees to the NCJ and hasn’t since February 2019. Thus, there is no need for the agreement and it was allowed to expire.

Sheriffs across the country are facing conflict between what a local law enforcement agency can legally do, and what ICE’s expanded authority allows. While other factors weighed into this decision such as employee morale, operational and resource limitations, and facility concerns, the main reason is the rider was no longer needed by ICE or our organization. ICE has other options to fulfill its law enforcement role.

As Sheriff I took an oath to uphold the law and that is what I do every day. It guides operational decisions along with our mission statement, our values, and vision. ALL decisions attempt to adhere to our commitment to public safety, public service, and maintaining the public’s trust. We maintain the public safety, in part, by following Virginia’s well settled and codified policy of cooperation and communication with federal law enforcement officials - including ICE. In fact, all sheriffs in Virginia are required by state code to determine the residency status of anyone arrested and brought to jail. During the booking process, fingerprints are automatically transmitted to a state database to which all local, state and national law enforcement agencies, including ICE, have access.

Some concerns raised I will address here:

  • We are not a sanctuary city. We cooperate to the degree allowed by law.
  • We do not participate in sweeps or round ups of immigrants as we are neither immigration officers, nor primary law enforcement, and we have limited resources.
  • We do not receive anyone for “civil detainers” only, this would violate the Code of Virginia.
  • We do cooperate with all other law enforcement agencies including ICE as required by law.
  • The agreement itself is not a mechanism for cooperation. No other sheriff’s offices in Hampton Roads has an agreement with ICE because it is not needed for cooperation.
  • Politics plays no role in the operations of the Norfolk Sheriff’s Office. I have been apolitical for over 32 years as a local law enforcement officer and will only be guided by the law.

I encourage anyone who has additional questions or concerns to contact my office.

Joe Baron
Norfolk Sheriff

The Norfolk Sheriff's Office is a values driven organization
committed to 
public safety, public service, and public trust.

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