Groups urge officials to do more for city’s immigrants

Photo by Erin Edgerton
Photo by Erin Edgerton
Photo by Erin Edgerton
Groups demonstrated outside City Hall to show support for Richmond becoming a “sanctuary” city for immigrants and refugees. Photo by Erin Edgerton.

Activist group ICE Out of RVA, alongside more than 100 protesters, rallied outside City Hall demanding Mayor Levar Stoney formally declare Richmond a “sanctuary” city last Monday.

Following the rally, demonstrators filled City Council in support of the cause. Carolina Velaz, an organizer of the event and member of ICE Out of RVA, said she applauds Mayor Levar Stoney for the first step, but more needs to be done.

“We’re talking about stopping the criminalization of our people,” Velaz said. “The directive is a move in the right direction, but we need the policies to back it up.”

This rally was in response to a directive issued by Stoney on Feb. 6, which reiterated the city’s commitment to inclusiveness of all residents — regardless of national origin, immigration or refugee status, race, creed, color, age, gender, disability or sexual orientation.

Stoney’s directive followed President Donald Trump’s Jan. 27 executive order banning the entry of citizens from seven majority-Muslim countries into the U.S. Although the courts have temporarily halted the order nation-wide, a second executive order issued the same day addressing internal security is still in effect.

The latter executive action demands cities and local law enforcement, even those declared “sanctuaries,” must cooperate with federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to remove non-citizens as part of the 287(g) agreements.

Stoney’s directive also addresses this aspect, stating Richmond Police will not consent to participate with the Immigration Customs Enforcement 287(g) agreements, and will not inquire about national origin or immigration status of individuals they come into contact with.

Claire Gastianaga, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union in Virginia, said that she’s happy that the Mayor has agreed to not sign a 287(g) agreement mentioned in the directive.

This agreement, she said, would embolden local police and ICE officers to enforce both civil and criminal immigration law, which they are not necessarily required to do.

“This current initiative is not about terrorism or people who are here without authority,” Gastianaga said. “This current initiative is about making Americans uncomfortable with people who are not white.”

Mayor Levar Stoney attended the council meeting on Monday night, and listened to what Velaz, who pushed council members to implement city-wide racial bias training for police officers and social workers, had to offer.

At the end of Velaz’s testimony, Fifth District councilman Parker Agelasto announced the City Council had appointed five members to a task force intended to establish a human rights commission in Richmond.

“That’s the first action we’ve taken tonight and begins the efforts and work towards wanting our city to become more inclusive and understanding of our diversity,” Agelasto said.

Both Gastianaga and Velaz said that they are willing to work with the city to help implement new policies, but will continue to monitor interactions between residents and law enforcement.

“Our country is a nation of immigrants,” Gastianaga said. “The idea that we should close the door now is deeply offensive to our American way of life and our values.”


hibaheadshot-1Hiba Ahmad
Hiba is a senior studying broadcast journalism and religious studies. In addition to writing for the CT, she is the campus editor-at-large for the Huffington Post, a blogger for and president of United Muslim Relief at VCU. This summer, Hiba interned with the Muslim Public Affairs Council in Washington, D.C. She previously interned with Voice for America and as a web content intern for VCU’s Richard T. Robertson School of Media and Culture.
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