Richmond Mayor Levar Stoney

by Jon Baliles

If you time warp all the way back to early 2017 (which on some days seems like 30 years ago), then-newly-sworn-in Mayor Levar Stoney issued a directive that Richmond would be a sanctuary city in opposition to then-newly-sworn-in President Trump’s executive orders on immigration (that were later struck down). Many cities across the country issued similar orders/directives.

City of Richmond employees, including police, would not ask anyone about their immigration status or cooperate with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) in deporting anyone in the country illegally. Stoney said on the day of the announcement, “That is not the country we are. That is not the city we will be.”

The Mayor’s directive said, in part: “in the interest of public safety and protecting communities, will maintain its policy of not inquiring as to the place of birth or immigration status of individuals with whom it comes into contact.”

If you recall the hubbub surrounding this, the directive did not actually use the term “sanctuary city,” and Richmond for years had been not working cooperatively with ICE on immigration matters. The same applied to Henrico and Chesterfield and Hanover — none of the regions’ governments or law enforcement had any such working arrangement. In fact, nationwide in 2017, there were only 38 police departments that had a signed working agreement with ICE, and only one in Virginia (Prince William County).

Why does that matter now, in 2022?

Well, that’s because the directive and sentiment from 2017 was voided by the Mayor when he and the former police chief took credit for stopping the July 4th alleged mass shooting that wasn’t, but which made them both stars for a few days on cable TV news about stopping gun violence.
The Mayor and Police Chief claimed on July 6th that two men were going to inflict mass casualties at Dogwood Dell on July 4th — but the two were never charged with any type of mass shooting threat. They were initially charged by the police with being in the country illegally.

This week in federal court, Richmond Police told a federal courtroom that one of the men arrested and accused and turned over to the Feds was not mentioned in the tip that led to the arrest that “former Police Chief Gerald Smith called a “hero citizen” that came into the police department on July 1.”

You can read the details here, but essentially, the police received a tip, and acting on it they found guns in the house and arrested one man with possession of a firearm illegally or unlawfully in the country; the other man renting a room in the house did not have guns but was arrested a few days later and charged with illegal re-entry into the country.

And when the media immediately started asking questions and the public began to realize this might be a PR stunt, the Mayor and the Chief stood firm by the mass shooting storyline. The City asked the Commonwealth’s Attorney to “adopt the case,” but when they went to Circuit Court, they told the court they had no evidence of a mass shooting. The City then turned the two suspects over to ICE for federal detainment and trial. Federal prosecutors offered no evidence of a mass shooting plot by either man in their trial.

So much for the amnesty directive.

And when Melissa Hipolit from CBS6 asked the Mayor this week point blank if the City owed the two men an apology for falsely accusing them and plastering their picture all over the media, he said:

“The police department did their job and that’s what they did, that’s all you can ask for. They received a tip they followed up on a tip. I am not going to get into the evidence, we are going to let the courts handle that process. All I can tell you is the Richmond Police Department did their due diligence I believe, and we’ll let the US Attorney’s Office handle the rest,” Stoney replied.

Hipolit wasn’t done: “Was it fair to have that press conference, though, and put his picture out there and act like he planned a mass shooting when in fact he wasn’t even included in the tip?”

Stoney replied, “There were weapons that could have been used to take lives that were found at the scene and these two individuals are within the process the process will play itself out and then we will go from there.”

All guns could/can be used for such awful intent to “take lives,” as the Mayor put it; there is no argument there. We know because it is happening every day in Richmond. But proof is usually a good thing. The two men accused did not show proclivities for such violence or have any criminal records (that we know of), nor did the federal prosecutors find anything remotely in that vein. But these men are likely going to federal prison and will then be deported back to Guatemala.

I understand that sometimes politics requires adjusting your polices and positions based on facts; it’s smart to pivot when warranted. But in this case the city never had evidence against the men for a mass shooting but had to get them on something, so they busted them based on their illegal status — and then turned them over to the Feds when the kitchen got too hot.

So, maybe the Mayor can issue a new directive — if you have weapons that, in his words, “could have been used to take lives,” then the city has the right to arrest you, hold a press conference, use you as a prop for cable news appearances and, if you are in the country illegally, turn you over to ICE, and you will do time in federal jail and then be deported back to your native country.
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CBS6 has noted that it has stopped posting the two men’s mugshots online in their news stories about this case, “…because they were charged with crimes that we would not normally show a mugshot for.” Ouch.

Jon Baliles is a former Richmond City councilman. This column has been republished with permission from his blog RVA 5×5.

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10 responses to “Sanctuary Sell-Out”

  1. Funny how this story never got national traction. Maybe because it didn’t advance the narrative of how Republicans mistreat illegal immigrants.

  2. Lefty665 Avatar

    I would not attribute Hanover’s lack of a formal agreement with ICE to it being a Sanctuary County. Illegals are welcome there as long as they are hard workers for low wages and don’t get uppity.

    Stoney’s hypocrisy on the other hand is clear.

  3. LarrytheG Avatar

    re: “..“in the interest of public safety and protecting communities, ”

    so this is the justification for sanctuary cities…

    it’s context… right?

    what does it mean? What are they talking about?

    why is this a “public safety” issue with regard to undocumented?

  4. f/k/a_tmtfairfax Avatar

    A real solution would be for Congress to amend the immigration law by allowing those here illegally but who have no criminal record to remain on a non-immigrant basis. i.e., they can work and get protections from U.S. labor laws but cannot be citizens and would not be eligible for chain immigration. As labor needs increase, when coupled with higher than cost of living increases in wages for unskilled workers who are citizens or have green cards, more non-immigrant visas could be issued. (Business would lose its below-market wage supply of workers. Let me shed a tear.)

    E-Verify would be mandatory and violators fined and/or imprisoned. Hiring an illegal immigrant without this new special status would be a felony. The only defense would be that the employer (which would include anyone hiring an individual on contract-basis for more than 10 days annually) checked E-Verify and received incorrect information.

    Congress should also amend the law that anyone filing a claim for asylum would be forever ineligible to obtain this special non-immigrant basis. It would also be a felony to assist an asylum seeker falsify information or omit material facts concerning the claim for asylum.

    1. LarrytheG Avatar

      IOW, a guest worker program like Canada has?

      I don’t understand your “asylum” thing.

      You want to ban anyone who is claiming asylum?

      I DO AGREE that one of the big problems at the border is that, in theory, anyone that comes across, can stay here while they have their asylum claim adjudicated. Why not let them be guest workers , at least while awaiting a decision? If that is not done, how do they make a living without being victim to unscrupulous businesses?

      1. f/k/a_tmtfairfax Avatar

        Larry, data show that around 85% of all asylum claims are bogus. In other words, people lie and are likely encouraged to lie by Americans. In recognition of this fact and with a goal of reducing false claims, give an illegal immigrant a choice – make an asylum claim that will more than likely fail or try to get a work permit.

        I see a big difference between deporting people who have lived here illegally but have not broken other laws and would generally be happy just to continue to work without becoming citizens and people who are not in the country and would come here illegally.

        To find a compromise, I propose protecting otherwise law abiding illegals while making it extremely difficult for more illegals to come.

        Both sides need to compromise in order to get reform legislation passed. I’m expanding on the proposal that an active Democratic Party friend has suggested to me. I see the two key elements needed for a compromise are: 1) avoid deporting otherwise law-abiding illegal immigrants who have been here for a while; and 2) making it extremely hard to come here illegally in the future (control the border).

        1. LarrytheG Avatar

          What are you proposing for the 15% who are legitimate asylum seekers?

          1. f/k/a_tmtfairfax Avatar

            If they can make the factual showing required by law and have followed all the requirements in the statute, they get asylum.

          2. LarrytheG Avatar

            How do you do that? How do you identify the 15% if you send everyone who comes over the border back?

            Isn’t that the problem?

            If we do that, aren’t we sending them all back including the 15% we don’t know which ones are?

          3. f/k/a_tmtfairfax Avatar

            Larry, the 15% figure comes from reports on the number of asylum applications that are approved from the total applications made. The vast majority of them are denied because the applicant cannot make the required showing or otherwise has not met the requirements of the statute.

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