- The Washington Times - Wednesday, April 13, 2005

Federal officials are investigating whether illegal aliens are being trafficked through the Washington area after authorities detained 12 illegal aliens traveling in a van in Spotsylvania County, Va., late Tuesday — the second such discovery in the state in three days.

“There is an investigation into this,” said Dean Boyd, a spokesman for the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agency. “We’re obviously looking at certain individuals who may be engaging in the transportation of illegal aliens.”

In the latest incident, Virginia State Police stopped a 1999 Dodge van shortly after 10 p.m. on Interstate 95 just south of Fredericksburg because of a broken windshield and headlight. Police said they found 14 persons in the van, including a 10-month-old who was not properly secured.

Mr. Boyd said 12 of the occupants were confirmed to be illegal aliens. Police Sgt. F.L. Tyler, a state police spokesman, said the persons were of Hispanic descent and traveling from New York to Florida to pick tomatoes.

Mr. Boyd said one was released to care for her child. Two of the 14 occupants produced proper identification, authorities said. The rest were being held in ICE custody.

The driver, Juvenal Martinez-Marin, 39, of Labelle, Fla., was issued citations for the traffic violations and not having the child in a safety restraint.

The latest incident comes three days after ICE authorities released 11 illegals who were found in a van by Fairfax County police during a traffic stop in Annandale on Sunday. The illegals were processed and released because immigration officials said they did not pose a threat to the public.

Authorities ordered the 11 Mexican nationals, three of whom are children, to return to immigration offices in Northern Virginia today for further processing. Officials said they did not know where the illegals were staying in the meantime.

Police charged the driver of that van, Emigdio Velasquez-Sargento, 22, with three counts of child endangerment, driving without a license and failure to obey a highway sign. He was being held on $8,000 bail.

The two recent incidents have led state and federal lawmakers to criticize the country’s immigration policy that limits the ability of local law-enforcement agencies to arrest and detain illegal aliens.

Under Virginia state law, local law-enforcement officials can only detain illegals who are suspected of a crime, have been previously convicted of a felony, or have been previously deported or left the U.S. after a conviction and illegally returned. Police also can detain illegals for up to 72 hours without bail until they are taken into federal custody.

“Usually it’s the criminal whose actions mock the law, but in this case, it is the Bureau of Immigration and Customs,” said Rep. Tom Tancredo, Colorado Republican and chairman of the Congressional Immigration Reform Caucus. “The problem is that there is nowhere to go and report these [immigration authorities] when they fail in their responsibility to enforce the law, because the president has failed in his.”

Virginia state Delegate Richard H. Black, Loudoun County Republican, said the law ties the hands of officials trying to curb illegal immigration.

“Immigration is principally a federal issue, and because of that we have to look to the federal government to enforce immigration standards,” he said. “Federal law enforcement in this area is a total sham. No one is willing to enforce immigration laws any longer.”

Brent Wilkes, national executive director for the League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC), said the current laws are appropriate for what amounts to be a minor violation.

“It’s only in context of the anti-immigrant crowd that thinks in the case of immigrants the punishment should far outweigh the crime,” Mr. Wilkes said. “They’re twisting the criminal justice system by turning a misdemeanor into a felony.”

Ira Mehlman, a spokesman for the Federation for American Immigration Reform, said the law is contrary to what police officers are trained to do.

“Advocates for illegal aliens want police to simply ignore the fact that they’ve come across somebody who’s violated federal law,” he said. “Cops routinely hold people wanted by another jurisdiction. It’s purely a political decision and contrary to other law-enforcement activity taking place.”

Lawmakers and immigration experts have said there are an estimated 200,000 illegal aliens in Virginia, which has an estimated population of 7.4 million.

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