- The Washington Times - Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Area law-enforcement agencies say they are not participating in a federal program giving officers more authority to enforce immigration laws because the responsibilities would overburden departments and strain relationships with immigrant populations.

“The personnel that it would require to enforce federal laws, not just immigration, could overwhelm the agency,” said Kraig Troxell, a spokesman for the Loudoun County Sheriff’s Department. “We already feel we’re behind the numbers we need here in Loudoun just to deal with the crime we’re working with in the county.”

The program, created under the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1996, authorizes Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents to train local officers in enforcing immigration law.

The cost of training one officer is about $500, but the type of training officers receive and the federal authority granted depends on the type of agreement the agency enters into with ICE.

For example, state troopers in Alabama have the authority during routine police activities to determine whether a person is an illegal alien and can be deported. Agencies in Arizona and California upon finishing the course can ensure illegals in prison are deported instead of released into the community after completing their sentence.

Ernestine Fobbs, an ICE spokeswoman, said the additional authority will enhance agencies, not overburden them.

“They are not going to be out doing arrests on the road,” she said. “This is not something that’s going to be taking away from their normal responsibilities.”

According to documents the national watchdog group Judicial Watch obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request, Herndon City Police, the Loudoun County Sheriff’s Office and Virginia State Police talked to ICE officials about participating in the program. However, none in the region have chosen to do so.

Mr. Troxell said the department, with 198 field deputies, decided against the agreement because it cannot absorb the added responsibility.

There are as many as 600,000 illegal aliens in the District, Maryland and Virginia, according to estimates by the Pew Hispanic Center.

“Right now the only thing they’re offering is training,” Mr. Troxell said. “They’re not offering additional financial or personnel resources.”

Virginia State Police spokeswoman Corinne Geller said the agency considered letting about 22 members of various task forces receive the training in 2004.

But the plan was postponed when Virginia lawmakers passed a bill allowing local law-enforcement officials to detain illegal aliens only if they are suspected of a crime, have been convicted of a felony or have been deported or left the United States and returned illegally.

Ms. Geller said a possible partnership with ICE caused great concern among the growing population of Hispanic immigrants in Northern Virginia.

“This was not a mission for immigration sweeps, roundups or anything of the sort,” Ms. Geller said. “State police are not in the business of that and never plan to be.”

Herndon police Chief Toussaint E. Summers said he still is considering the ICE agreement, but does not have a timetable for a decision. Other localities — including Arlington, Fairfax and Montgomery counties, the city of Alexandria, the District and Maryland State Police — said they do not have an agreement with ICE, and none said there were plans to enter into one.

“We thought it was best to concentrate on local and state laws,” said Detective Steve Gomez, an Arlington County police spokesman.

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