- The Washington Times - Sunday, October 18, 2020

Prince William County’s jail released an illegal immigrant late last month despite a federal criminal warrant for his arrest, marking what federal officials see as an escalation of sanctuary policies.

Edras Onel Vasquez-Perez, 25, had been deported before. When he was found in the U.S. again, federal authorities persuaded a magistrate judge to issue a felony warrant for his arrest.

Prince William County police arrested Mr. Vasquez-Perez on Sept. 28 on charges of assaulting a family member, but the jail released him a day later, apparently ignoring both the criminal warrant and a detainer request from U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

The Prince William-Manassas Regional Adult Detention Center recently enacted a sanctuary policy, but defying a criminal warrant appears to go beyond the terms of that policy, and it surprised ICE officials.

Indeed, most sanctuary city advocates say criminal warrants are what they want ICE to obtain. Deportation officers usually file administrative warrants, not approved by a judge, to accompany detainer requests, which are a matter of civil law.

“Prince William County’s new noncooperation policy ignores common-sense public safety policies for the sake of politics, even to the point of ignoring a federal criminal warrant issued by a U.S. District Court,” said Matthew Munroe, acting director of ICE’s Washington field office, which covers Prince William County.

“When local jurisdictions choose to treat a federal law enforcement agency differently, ignoring lawful detainers and warrants, it puts the public at risk, plain and simple,” Mr. Munroe said.

Neither Col. Pete Meletis, superintendent of the jail, nor Prince William County Sheriff Glendell Hill, who serves as chairman of the jail board, responded to inquiries last week, and it’s not clear whether the defiance was an oversight or intentional.

Jessica Vaughan, policy studies director at the Center for Immigration Studies, said it was “extremely rare” not to comply with a warrant from any fellow law enforcement agency, much less a federal warrant.

“It might even be a violation of the terms of the law enforcement information-sharing agreements. The Department of Justice should look into how this happened and whether there should be some consequences,” she said.

ICE ended up nabbing Mr. Vasquez-Perez in Woodbridge on Oct. 7 as deportation officers swept through six sanctuary areas of Washington, Baltimore, Seattle, Denver, New York and Philadelphia.

All told, more than 170 illegal immigrants were nabbed, including 23 in the Washington region: 12 in Maryland and 11 in Virginia.

Immigrant rights groups said the wave of arrests was an attempt at “scaring immigrants” ahead of Election Day.

“Violating the sanctity of sanctuary jurisdictions in battleground states like Pennsylvania is not part of ‘routine operations,’” said Gustavo Torres, president of CASA in Action, a major activist group operating in the mid-Atlantic. “Trump himself is scared of immigrants exercising their right to vote.”

The number of sanctuary jurisdictions has soared on President Trump’s watch as communities mount resistance to his get-tough talk. Although the policies vary, they all involve refusing cooperation of some sort.

Some jurisdictions refuse to hold ICE targets for pickup but will call to alert ICE before release, giving deportation officers a chance to be on hand. Other jurisdictions refuse all cooperation.

Prince William and some other jurisdictions say they chart a middle ground.

Under the jail’s policy, adopted weeks ago, someone booked in on a misdemeanor will be shielded but someone booked in on a felony will be held for up to two hours for ICE pickup.

Mr. Vasquez-Perez sneaked into the U.S. as an unaccompanied alien child in 2012. Under U.S. policy, that meant he was released to sponsors.

Four years later, he was arrested in Montgomery County, Maryland, on eight charges, including robbery, assault and hate crimes. He pleaded guilty to a single assault charge, was sentenced to 18 months and then was deported.

It’s not clear when he sneaked back into the country, but he was indicted by a federal grand jury in Newport News, Virginia, in 2019 on a charge of illegal reentry, a felony punishable by up to 20 years in prison.

A magistrate judge then issued an arrest warrant that, according to court documents, was still valid when police in Prince William County nabbed him last month.

Prince William used to be one of the country’s most cooperative jurisdictions when it came to relationships with ICE.

Over the past year, though, the county allowed its cooperation agreement with ICE to lapse. The jail then implemented its new sanctuary policy.

Ms. Vaughan said the slide from cooperation to ignoring a felony warrant was striking.

“It’s quite a turnaround from the successful partnerships of recent years, and the residents of Prince William County soon might start feeling some buyer’s remorse for these new officials,” she said.

As more communities adopt sanctuary policies, ICE is getting more aggressive in its pushback.

The agency has purchased billboard space in Pennsylvania to highlight a half-dozen targets who have been released by sanctuary communities in that state.

Acting Homeland Security Secretary Chad Wolf said the goal is to raise awareness among residents about the consequences of sanctuary policies.

Sanctuary communities argue that cooperation with ICE and the agency’s presence scare some communities and hinder their willingness to report crimes to local authorities.

The data is unclear on whether that is true.

But Mr. Wolf said if sanctuaries are trying to protect illegal immigrants, then it’s backfiring.

When communities cooperate, ICE can pick them up in prisons and jails and goes only after its targets. Without that cooperation, ICE sends teams of officers into communities who can arrest other illegal immigrants they encounter while pursuing their targets.

“If communities and jurisdictions would simply cooperate with us, you would likely not see ICE in your communities,” Mr. Wolf said.

• Stephen Dinan can be reached at sdinan@washingtontimes.com.

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