- The Washington Times - Friday, September 29, 2006

A Manassas council member is pushing for city police to follow in Herndon’s footsteps and enroll officers in a federal program that would allow them to enforce immigration law.

“The city of Manassas right now is facing incredible pressure from the effects of illegal immigration,” council member Jackson H. Miller said. “It’s affecting our school system, our police department, our hospital. It’s even affecting the spirit of our neighborhood.”

Mr. Miller — a Republican who is running for the 50th District seat previously held by Republican Harry J. Parrish in the Virginia House of Delegates — wants the city council to give police authority to participate in a program offered by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).

The program, created under the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1996, authorizes ICE officials to train local officers in immigration law. The type of training officers receive and the federal authority granted depends on the type of agreement the agency enters into with ICE.

On Tuesday, the Herndon Town Council voted 6-1 to enroll its officers in the program and allow them to question and detain suspected illegal aliens.

Mr. Miller said he would like Manassas officers to have similar authority.

“This program is a no-brainer,” he said. “It’s just that extra step that can be used for an officer to find out if that person is legal and … start the deportation process.”

However, the program has not won the approval of Manassas Police Chief John J. Skinner, who said he is “generally opposed” to his officers getting the training.

Chief Skinner said the added responsibility and five weeks of training could overburden his department — which has up to 89 officers — and could cause a backlash among the city’s Hispanic community.

He also said his department partners with ICE and other federal agencies on several regional task forces to root out criminal aliens and he would favor a similar coordinated approach over the localized one the program offers.

“I just don’t know that this patchwork … approach to one town or one city being empowered with this authority is really a … logical way to go about abating the growing illegal immigration issue in the region,” Chief Skinner said.

Herndon would become the first town in the country to enroll in the program if ICE approves its participation.

Without the agreement, Virginia law prohibits local law-enforcement officials from detaining illegal aliens unless they are suspected of a crime, have been convicted of a felony or have been deported or left the U.S. and returned illegally.

It also bars police from asking the immigration status of persons they encounter during routine traffic stops.

Mr. Miller said the program would help Manassas control crimes such as grand larceny, burglary and pubic drunkenness that he says are related to the city’s illegal alien population.

He said he has spoken to ICE about participating in the program and hopes to have ICE officials brief the council in the near future.

“After that, that’s when the council would decide if they think it’s something we should move forward with or something we should not bother with,” Mr. Miller said, noting that he first mentioned the program to the council about six months ago.

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