Statement by Ahoefa Ananouko
on behalf of the
American Civil Liberties Union of the District of Columbia
before the
DC Council Committee on Judiciary and Public Safety
Public Hearing on
B23-0501 – Sanctuary Values Amendment Act of 2019
October 1, 2020

 

 

Hello Councilmember Allen and members of the Committee. My name is Ahoefa Ananouko and I am a policy associate with the ACLU of the District of Columbia (ACLU-DC). I present the following testimony on behalf of our 13,500 members across the District. Today, I am testifying in strong support of Bill 23-501— the “Sanctuary Values Amendment Act of 2019.”

Introduced in October of 2019 by Councilmembers Allen, Cheh, Gray, Grosso, McDuffie, Nadeau, R. White, T. White, Silverman, Chairman Mendelson, and former councilmember Evans, the purpose of Bill 23-501 is to limit the District’s involvement in federal immigration enforcement, by prohibiting cooperation between District government agencies and federal immigration authorities such as Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). Among other things, the bill prohibits the District from complying with detainer requests without a warrant or order from a federal judge or magistrate judge. The bill also forbids the sharing of information regarding an individual's date and time of release, location, address, or criminal case information and does not allow ICE agents access to the DC Jail or any other DC detention facility.

The ACLU-DC applauds the Council in taking an important first step by unanimously passing a temporary version of this legislation in October of 2019. We now urge the Council to pass this legislation as permanent to protect the rights and safety of the District’s immigrant communities, and support the recommendations put forth by the ICE Out of D.C. coalition to strengthen Bill 23-501.

One reason this legislation is critical is to end the Department of Corrections’ (DOC) practice of complying with ICE notification requests that result in DOC not just alerting federal agents when someone is in its custody, but giving ICE agents access to the DC Jail and releasing individuals into ICE custody “if ICE picks up the inmate prior to the inmate’s departure.” Although DOC updated its policy in December, the Department’s policy does not clearly state that it will cease responding to ICE notification requests, which DOC has done in the past, and says nothing about complying with detainer requests. While there is currently no clear evidence that District agencies have been complying with ICE detainer requests, it is important for District law to be clear about its prohibition instead of relying on agency policies and practices to uphold residents’ rights. Moreover, nowhere in DOC’s policy does it direct its staff to stop sharing release time, address, or criminal case information with ICE.

The ACLU-DC strongly opposes such cooperation between local District government agencies and federal immigration enforcement for several reasons, not the least of which is that any cooperation between District agencies and federal immigration authorities results in significant safety consequences for District residents. As the Council acknowledged in its Sanctuary Values Emergency Declaration Resolution first passed on October 8, 2019, “When the District cooperates with ICE, trust in District agencies by the immigrant community erodes, and public safety is compromised. Immigrant residents become less likely to seek the help of District agencies, particularly law enforcement.” Among other things, fear of deportation reduces crime reporting by immigrants and discourages crime survivors from participating in court proceedings. As a result, crimes like domestic violence, sexual assault, and human trafficking are harder to investigate and prosecute because immigrant crime survivors fear that coming forward would result in immigration consequences—limiting the effectiveness of an already broken and unequal legal system.

Furthermore, distrust in local agencies due to collaboration with ICE also undermines current efforts to control the spread of COVID-19. First, fear of detainment by ICE and lack of trust in DC agencies discourages immigrants and their family members from seeking necessary testing and treatment. Second, ICE’s continued detainment of individuals exacerbates the risk of detention centers being hotspots for COVID-19 by increasing their populations. Public health officials have warned from the beginning of this public health crisis that congregate settings like detention facilities present unique challenges to mitigating the spread of COVID-19 due to the inability to ensure safe social distancing and quarantining measures. The District should strive to reduce, not increase, the detained population—protecting both the people detained and vulnerable communities.

In 2016, Mayor Bowser issued a statement reaffirming D.C.’s status as a “Sanctuary City,” committing to protecting the District’s immigrant communities through its laws, policies, and practices. The documented continued cooperation between ICE and District agencies such as the DOC and MPD is antithetical to that commitment. A recent Washington City Paper article revealed that MPD cooperated with ICE—thereby violating the temporary Sanctuary Values law—on at least two occasions. The first incident occurred in December, exactly one month after the Mayor signed the bill, and the second instance occurred in January of 2020. MPD and ICE denied cooperation in both instances, despite evidence from affidavits. It is therefore imperative that the Council engage in strong oversight of DOC and MPD to ensure continued compliance with the law once it is in effect.

The ACLU-DC looks forward to working with the Council and alongside community partners to ensure passage of a strong Sanctuary Values Amendment Act that upholds the District’s commitment to protecting the rights and safety of our immigrant communities.

Thank you for the opportunity to testify and I’m happy to answer any questions you may have.