Posted: Friday, April 1, 2016 11:00 am
BY MICHAEL MARTZ Richmond Times-Dispatch

In case anyone didn't get the message in English, Gov. Terry McAuliffe turned to Spanish in his veto of bills that sought to prevent sheriffs and jail superintendents from releasing inmates that federal immigration authorities had asked to be detained beyond their sentences.

Gov. Terry McAuliffe today vetoed legislation that would prohibit sheriffs and jail superintendents from releasing inmates at the request of federal immigration authorities, which the governor said would usurp local authority and stigmatize "many of those who are caught up in a broken immigration system."

"Virginia law already leaves it to the discretion of state and local law enforcement officials how to respond to lawful detainer orders received by the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement," he said in a veto issued in both English and Spanish. "This bill does nothing other than subject non-citizens in legal disputes with federal immigration officials to inequitable treatment."

"Rather than stoking irrational fears of non-citizens present in the commonwealth, the General Assembly should be focused on substantive policies to improve public safety in Virginia," he said.

Senate Bill 270, introduced by Sen. Thomas A. Garrett Jr., R-Buckingham, and House Bill 481, sponsored by Del. Robert G. Marshall, R-Prince William, tried to circumvent a 2014 opinion by Attorney General Mark R. Herring. The opinion advised sheriffs they have no legal authority to hold inmates beyond their release dates even if federal immigration officials ask for them to be detained.

Claire Guthrie Gastanaga, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Virginia, said the legislation contradicted itself by prohibiting sheriffs and jail authorities from releasing inmates subject to federal immigration detaining requests, but at the same acknowledging the prisoners could not be held beyond their release dates.

"It's a circular nullity" Gastanaga said. "It says you shall hold them but you can't hold them. It's a bill that doesn't do anything and can't do anything."

The ACLU asked Virginia sheriffs in mid-2014 to not honor requests by the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement to "detain people in your custody who are otherwise free to be released."

After Virginia Beach Sheriff Ken Stolle, a former state senator, asked the attorney general for an opinion on the issue, Herring advised early last year that an ICE detainer "is merely a request," not a legal requirement.

"It does not create for a law enforcement agency either an obligation or legal authority to maintain custody of a prisoner who is otherwise eligible for immediate release from local or state custody," Herring told Stolle in a letter on Jan. 5, 2015.