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Immigration-status policy mulled

- The Washington Times - Friday, July 6, 2007

Prince William County officials are considering overturning a police department policy that prohibits officers from inquiring about an person's immigration status except when suspected offelonies or other majorcrimes.

The Board of County Supervisors is scheduled to vote Tuesday on a resolution requiring police officers to ask about immigration status in all arrests, regardless of the crime. The resolution, introduced last month by Supervisor John T. Stirrup, also directs the police department to pursue federal training in immigration-enforcement procedures and would require county staff to check a person's immigration status before providing public services.

"What I'd like to offer today is a first step toward addressing the problem of illegal immigration," which is "destroying the fabric of the county ... and destroying our quality of life," Mr. Stirrup said.

"The message will be clear that ... Prince William is indeed closed to illegal immigration," he said.

Mr. Stirrup's resolution states: "County police officers shall inquire into the citizenship or immigration status of any person detained for a violation of a state law or municipal ordinance."

"What it does is brings our police department policies to comport with federal law," he said yesterday.

Under a county police department general order in May 2005, officers are prohibited from asking about a person's immigration status unless they are arrested for a felony; criminal street-gang activity, terrorist activity or organized crime; using a firearm while committing a crime; or fraudulent activity to assist illegal aliens.

Right now, police also can check suspects' immigration status and notify federal officials if they are found to have previously been convicted of a felony or have a pre-existing warrant against them from U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement .

Help Save Manassas, whose mission is to reduce the influx of illegal aliens in Prince William County, has criticized the police department's so-called "sanctuary policy" and called for county supervisors to reverse it.

"We raised the question, and they kind of dug their heels in, so it was time for the supervisors to take action," group President Greg Letiecq said. "We've kind of been disappointed in the reaction so far from the county police department."

Police Chief Charlie T. Deane has defended the department's policy, citing limited resources, reduced victim and witness cooperation, and limited jail space.

"The police department's primary mission is to control crime and community safety," he told county supervisors last month.

"Immigration enforcement is a complicated national issue that could divert significant and limited resources from its primary mission. We have chosen a balanced policy that prioritizes the use of police resources coupled with the enhanced immigration training ... within our jails."

Chief Deane did not return a call seeking comment yesterday.

The Prince William-Manassas Regional Adult Detention Center is pursuing federal training authorized under Section 287(g) of the Immigration and Nationality Act, which allows state and local law-enforcement agencies to work with federal officials to identify and detain illegal aliens.

Chief Deane, who sits on the jail board, indicated in a letter to county supervisors last month that he supports training jail officers but did not address the training of county officers.

The proposed resolution also reiterates that county staff must verify legal status before providing certain public services that already are restricted under existing law to citizens and legal residents.

"Illegal immigration may be encouraged by public agencies within the county by failing to verify immigration status as a condition of providing public service," the resolution states.

Some public agencies, such as schools and the health department, are not required by federal or state government to verify a person's legal status before providing services, according to a report in January on the cost of illegal aliens in the county.

The resolution is not designed to deny mandatory public services — such as emergency medical treatment or education — to illegal aliens. It is meant to enforce existing restrictions, Mr. Letiecq said.

"The resolution doesn't take benefits away from anyone," he said. "All it does is say, 'We're going to ask the question. If you're legally restricted, we're going to ask the question.' "