CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. (CBS19 NEWS) -- The Albemarle Charlottesville Regional Jail will continue to notify federal immigration officials when an inmate who has an immigration detainer is released.
The decision was made at the conclusion of a three-hour special meeting of the ACRJ board on Thursday and was in response to pressure from various immigration rights groups to change its policy.
"I'm just very disappointed that our board couldn't move forward in doing what's right for the people," said Charlottesville City Councilor Wes Bellamy, who sits on the ACRJ board and had suggested notifying ICE of immigrant inmate's release only for people with felony or DUI charges.
The jail is required by law to notify Immigration and Customs Enforcement, or ICE, when someone with an immigration detainer enters the jail. But the jail is not legally required to tell ICE exactly when that person is being released.
An ICE representative said that many of the 200 people ICE has picked up on detainers from ACRJ over the past three years had been convicted of serious crimes including murder, rape, and drug offenses either here or in their home countries.
Angela Ciolfi, director of litigation and advocacy for Legal Aid Justice Center, spoke to the board, urging them to change the policy and describing the impact the policy has on local families and children who live in fear of deportation.
She said undocumented immigrants are not allowed to get driver's licenses in this country, leading many of them to drive without a license to get to and from work. That offense, she said, should not be the basis for tearing a family apart.
"We are simply heartbroken that the jail board didn't see fit to send a message to our community that they can live and work without fear that every time they drive without a license, that they are playing a game of Roulette with whether they will ever come home to their families," Ciolfi said.
She denied the ICE claims that the jail would be releasing violent criminals onto the streets if the policy changed, and said the jail's policy for contacting ICE should take into account the severity of the offense.
"I think it would be very reasonable to distinguish between serious, major crimes and convictions for those crimes and simply charges of misdemeanors," said Ciolfi.
After hearing from numerous immigrant advocates who supported changing the policy and one Albemarle County resident who was in favor of keeping it, the board voted to keep the policy of notifying ICE when undocumented immigrants with detainers are released.
Albemarle County Sheriff Chip Harding, a jail board member, supported the motion to keep the policy.
"I think it's a public safety issue," he said. "There are a lot of cases that really pull at your heartstrings that you hear, where people are detained and then released later, and it was a hardship on the family. But the majority of the cases, I think there was proper reason for detention."
Bellamy said he doesn't plan to drop the issue.
"I am very disappointed, but I believe in the power of people, and I believe that this will indeed be rectified," he said. "We just have to continue to keep the faith and stay strong."