- The Washington Times - Monday, June 16, 2014

The Virginia county that ignited a national debate by using local police to round up illegal immigrants is planning a new legal maneuver to force the U.S. government to divulge what it did with the more than 7,000 people turned over to deportation authorities.

Corey Stewart, the chairman of the Prince William County Board of Supervisors, told The Washington Times that about 10 percent of those it originally turned over to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement over the last seven years have been re-arrested by county police for new crimes after they were released.

“We know that’s just the tip of the iceberg,” Mr. Stewart said, citing examples such as a man who was convicted of killing a Roman Catholic nun in a drunken driving accident while he was awaiting action on possible deportation.

Mr. Stewart plans to take the first step toward possible litigation against federal officials on Tuesday by asking his colleagues on the county board to authorize a Freedom of Information Act request to demand that the Department of Homeland Security divulge how many of the suspected illegal immigrants that county police arrested since 2007 were deported, released or kept in detention.

Mr. Stewart said he expected the FOIA would lead to new litigation given the struggles the county has faced in getting information from the federal government in the past. “It’s been an ongoing struggle with them,” Mr. Stewart said, noting that an earlier lawsuit in 2011 did not result in the release of information.

ICE and Homeland officials did not immediately respond to requests for comment Monday about Mr. Stewart’s plans.

SEE ALSO: Fighting back: Residents force feds to scrap plan to house illegals at Va. college

Prince William County, located about 25 miles south of the nation’s capital, is an affluent, fast-growing Washington, D.C., suburb popular with current and retired military personnel and federal workers. Dotted with large suburban homes, shopping malls and successful schools, the community of about 430,000 residents has boasted a significant construction industry over the years that attracted migrant workers. The influx taxed the county’s housing and social services.

The county also has become a key battleground in national and state elections, a sort of bellwether about Virginia’s transition from a politically red to purple state in recent years.

The county made national headlines in 2007 when Mr. Stewart led the effort to enact a new county law authorizing local law enforcement to ask people their immigration status, even if they were not suspected of wrongdoing. The legislation sparked similar efforts around the county, including a controversial 2010 law in Arizona.

County police jumped into action, rounding up hundreds of suspected illegal immigrants in a sweep that troubled advocates for looser immigration laws and drove thousands of immigrants to flee the county. In 2008 the county amended the law so that police could only ask about citizenship status after a person was first arrested for an unrelated criminal offense.

Despite the change, the county has still rounded up more than 7,000 suspected illegals and turned them over to ICE for possible deportation.

The county’s Adult Detention Center also entered into a 287 (G) agreement with ICE, meaning officials from the center are trained by federal immigration authorities, according to County Attorney Angela Lemmon Horan. Detention center officials may put a “detainer” on any inmate, meaning the person is referred to ICE to determine their eligibility to stay in the country.

“A person with a detainer is, in the moment, determined to be there without authorization,” Ms. Lemmon Horan explained. This does not mean the person will ultimately be deported, she added.

ICE has repeatedly declined to give the county specific information on the citizenship status or disposition of any of those detained by county police, Mr. Stewart said.

Mr. Stewart said he worries that released individuals could re-offend, putting citizens in the county at risk.

For instance, prosecutors alleged Carlos Martinelly Montano, a man in Prince William who was awaiting a deportation hearing from ICE, killed a 66-year-old nun and injured two other nuns in a drunken driving incident in Bristow, Virginia.

Mr. Martinelly Montano was only required to check in with ICE once a month as he waited for his hearing. He had a history of reckless driving arrests and citations, including two previous drunken driving offenses, prosecutors alleged.

He was sentenced to 20 years in prison in 2012 for the fatal crash.

Another issue, according to Mr. Stewart, is that if an individual turned over to ICE by the county appears on the streets again, local law enforcement don’t know what ICE’s ultimate ruling was or if the person has even received a decision yet.

“We would expect there’s a certain percentage of those individuals who were allowed to stay in the United States,” Mr. Stewart said.

As a result, police who encounter someone previously sent to ICE face the dilemma of wrongfully harassing someone who was allowed to stay or potentially letting someone reside in the country illegally after already being deported.

Some, like members of the Capital Area Immigrants’ Rights (CAIR) Coalition, saw the 2007 law, billed as helping strengthen the community, as disruptive.

“It was an oversimplified understanding of community safety,” CAIR Coalition Legal Director Heidi Altman said. “Behind every ICE detainer and every deportation is a family and a community that’s broken apart.”

Ms. Altman also rejected the idea the county might be concerned with whether ICE has detained enough people, saying that the worry enforcement was not harsh enough was “not founded.”

“The immigration enforcement that we have seen in the intervening years has been unprecedented in scope,” she said.

This is the second time the county has sought to pressure DHS for information on people turned over to ICE. In 2011 the county went to federal court with a similar request, but the judge ruled that the county and ICE had not exhausted other options to release the information.

The county has maintained requests for information for years since the initial ruling, demonstrating its efforts to get information without court intervention.

Mr. Stewart said litigation may be the only option left for the county and that he hoped a new suit would end with a different conclusion than the 2011 effort.

“This time we’ve learned from our past mistakes,” Mr. Stewart said.

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