Advocates Say the Richmond Jail Is Releasing Undocumented People to Immigration Enforcement 

click to enlarge Delmy Moran Martinez was arrested in April after a fight with a friend. Now she faces deportation.

Scott Elmquist

Delmy Moran Martinez was arrested in April after a fight with a friend. Now she faces deportation.

The Richmond City Justice Center and the sheriff are releasing undocumented people into the custody of immigration officials without warrants for their arrest, say local advocates for immigrants.

A judge signed a release order for Delmy Moran Martinez’s at 11:49 a.m. on April 3, but Martinez says she was held until that evening, when an immigration officer interviewed her at the jail. She was released into the officer’s custody, spent another night at Virginia Peninsula Regional Jail and was then taken to an Immigration and Customs Enforcement processing center in Midlothian before her release.

“I was totally freaked out — I didn’t know what was going to happen,” she says through a translator at her Columbia Street apartment. “The only thing I was thinking in that moment is, ‘They’re not going to let me go now. I’m not going to see my children.’”

Martinez says she has no criminal record, although Chesterfield County records show unpaid tickets from 2014 for driving without a license and operating a vehicle with improperly adjusted brakes. She now faces deportation and close monitoring by ICE, as the immigration enforcement agency is known. In addition to pretrial check-ins for her criminal case, she checks in regularly at the Midlothian immigration offices. Home visits can be unannounced, and an ankle bracelet monitors her movements.

“She got into a small problem with a friend, and because of something so simple, her whole life is now upside down. And potentially totally destroyed,” says Flor Lopez with ICE Out of RVA, an organization that advocates for immigrants.

Incidents such as this have increased since the November election, says ICE Out of RVA. President Donald Trump has proposed an extra $2.7 billion for border security and immigration enforcement, and even though his budget has yet to pass, Lopez says the group is seeing the impact of the president’s plans in Richmond.

“It’s always been happening,” Lopez says of raids and arrests like the one Martinez experienced. “But there’s been a different feeling, and it’s attacking communities and undocumented people right now in this country.”

Richmond police picked up Martinez, 29, in the early morning hours of April 1 after a drunken fight with a friend, and she was held at the jail without bail until Monday morning, April 3. She’s been charged with malicious wounding and awaits a trial date.

Sheriff C.T. Woody Jr. told Style in February that, while he cooperates with immigration enforcement, the jail does not hold people past state requirements unless ICE produces a criminal warrant.

Tony Pham, general counsel for the Richmond Sheriff’s Office, said he did not have time to review the facts before Style went to press Monday afternoon.

Martinez doesn’t remember the fight and says friends had taken her home when the police came for her. The police incident report describes the weapons as the 5-feet-tall Martinez’s hands, feet and fists in an aggravated assault. A magistrate signed an arrest warrant for Martinez at 4:34 a.m. on April 1, and she was charged with felony malicious wounding.

Lopez says the charge feels “ridiculous and heavy,” given that the fight was over and the participants removed from one another.

That Monday, after a $2,500 bail was set, Martinez says she was told to wait while the paperwork was completed. “Several hours later, when they took me to a little room and there was an immigration officer,” she says.

The officer spoke Spanish and asked the Salvadoran native about her family and crossing the border to America, she says. He said he would take custody of Martinez when she left the jail.

ICE Out of RVA would like to see no collaboration between the Richmond sheriff and immigration enforcement, says Lopez — no visits by or interviews by agents. “And we don’t want people to be transferred from the jail to custody of ICE,” she says.

Martinez can’t work at her restaurant job, where she earned about $400 a week, because that’s where her accuser works, too. She says she can’t find other work right now because of the irregular check-in schedule and her probationary status. Martinez pays a neighbor to watch her children, who are 2, 6 and 10, while she reports to the various agencies.

Dustin King with ICE Out of RVA also questions the discretion of the police officer who originally arrested her on aggravated assault, an offense normally committed with a weapon. A simple assault charge would have likely been a misdemeanor, and the officer could have issued a summons to appear in court instead, King says.

Richmond Police Chief Alfred Durham has emphasized that immigration status is not a factor in policing decisions, but the department acknowledges that officers have discretion in their day-to-day work.

Mayor Levar Stoney has called Richmond a welcoming city for immigrants and came close to declaring it a sanctuary city. Woody is elected by Richmond voters and not beholden to mayoral directives.

First elected in 2005, Woody faces a Democratic primary challenger, Antionette Irving, in the June 13 election. S


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