- The Washington Times - Monday, June 28, 2004

Alexandria police yesterday announced they will not regularly check the immigration status of people they arrest, but will enforce the narrow provisions of a new law aimed at cracking down on illegal aliens in the fight against gangs and terrorists.

The law, which goes into effect Thursday, allows Virginia authorities to detain known illegal aliens who are suspected of a crime and previously have been convicted of felonies and deported. Police can detain them for up to 72 hours without bail until they are taken into federal custody.

The law does not apply to resident aliens — and it only applies to convicted felons engaging in criminal activity who have been deported or left the United States after a conviction.

“It’s not routine to check someone’s immigration status, and it will not become routine,” said Amy Bertsch, spokeswoman for the Alexandria Police Department. “The intention of the legislation was designed to protect people, and there are so few circumstances where we could actually foresee using it.”

Alexandria’s policy states: “We will not compromise the trust we have with our immigrant neighbors by misusing a law that applies in very few, but serious, situations — a law designed to protect us all from serious criminal offenders. … [We] will not use this provision to target undocumented immigrants or to seek out the immigration status of people in Alexandria.”

Arlington County police also will not “routinely” check immigration status, according to its policy.

Arlington’s policy states that police may ask about a person’s immigration status and will notify federal authorities if an immigrant:

• Is arrested for a violent felony.

• Has been previously convicted of a felony.

• Is arrested for or is reasonably suspected of involvement in terrorist activities.

• Is arrested for helping illegal aliens into the country.

• Has been deported or is reasonably suspected of participating in criminal street gang activity.

In a letter published May 1 in The Washington Times, Arlington County Police Chief M. Douglas Scott said: “When the law goes into effect July 1, Arlington police officers will arrest known undocumented immigrants, meeting the very narrow criteria set forth in the new law.”

The chief’s spokesman, Matt Martin, declined to comment further yesterday.

The powers granted under the law are limited, but publicity about the law has the Hispanic community scared.

“There’s a serious lack of clear information regarding this law, and the amount of fear in the community is entirely disproportionate to the amount of new powers the police are getting under it,” said Tim Freilich, managing lawyer at the Virginia Justice Center, a nonprofit legal-assistance program in Falls Church.

Mr. Freilich said other localities should follow Alexandria and Arlington’s lead and offer residents a clear, specific policy on how police will enforce the law.

Many legal immigrants who are misinterpreting the law fear they will be deported, Mr. Freilich said.

“There’s a lot of fear in the community that police will target people based on their appearance, regardless of whether or not they are engaging in criminal behavior,” he said.

Fairfax County police will use the powers granted by the new law to rid the community of felons in the area illegally and engaging in criminal activity, according to Sgt. Richard Perez.

Last week, Sen. George Allen announced a $2.8 million federal grant for 28 Virginia jurisdictions to help defray the costs associated with detaining illegal aliens. Arlington will receive $223,125; Fairfax County, $618,920; Loudoun County, $72,846; and Prince William County, $296,786.

Immigration experts estimate that of the estimated 10 million illegal aliens in the United States, more than 100,000 live in Virginia.

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