Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Prince William County Police Chief Charlie T. Deane has suspended a department policy prohibiting officers from asking residents about their immigration status except when they are suspected of felonies or other major crimes.

In a memo last week to the Board of County Supervisors, Chief Deane said he plans to implement a policy to “provide officers with additional guidance” and will pursue federal training for immigration-enforcement procedures. He will present his plans to the board today.

Board members are expected to discuss a proposed resolution requiring police officers making arrests and county staff providing public services to ask about immigration status.

The resolution, introduced last month by Supervisor John T. Stirrup, directs the police department to pursue 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 opposes such training for his department but supports it at the Prince William-Manassas Regional Adult Detention Center, which is finalizing a formal agreement with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), said Sgt. Kim Chinn, police department spokeswoman.

Chief Deane, who was unavailable for comment yesterday, suspended a May 2005 order that prohibited county officers from asking a person about their 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.

Virginia law allows police to check immigration status and notify federal immigration officials if a suspect is found to have been convicted of a felony or to have a warrant outstanding from ICE.

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, regardless of the person’s national origin, ethnicity or race. … In all such cases where a person indicates that he or she is not a citizen or national of the United States, the police department shall verify whether or not the person is lawfully present in the United States.”

Chief Deane has defended the department’s policy and questioned the feasibility of implementing Mr. Stirrup’s proposal.

“Illegal immigration is first and foremost a national problem that can best be addressed with national strategies” such as border security and sanctions against employers of illegal aliens, Chief Deane wrote in his memo.

“I want to say emphatically that Prince William County is not now, nor has it been, a ‘sanctuary’ for illegal immigration,” he wrote. “The police department and county have been more aggressive than most jurisdictions in dealing with illegal immigration.”

Help Save Manassas, whose mission is to reduce the influx of illegal aliens in Prince William County, has demanded that county supervisors reverse what it calls the police department’s “sanctuary policy.”

Greg Letiecq, president of the group, called the chief’s memo encouraging.

“Any time you have your elected officials or county officials respond to the concerns of the public, that’s always a good thing,” he said.

County Executive Craig S. Gerhart, County Attorney Ross G. Horton and jail Superintendent Charles “Skip” Land also are expected to make presentations to the board.

Last week, Mr. Horton proposed a closed session with supervisors to discuss legal issues. “The actual wording of those policies and their method of implementation require careful thought to avoid falling afoul of constitutional, statutory and regulatory strictures,” he wrote in a memo.

Mr. Gerhart, who is scheduled to present to the board the county’s current policy on checking immigration status, raised doubts about the ability to enact the resolution. “As a general comment, I ask that the board consider the county’s ability to implement successfully the policies established by the board and meet the expectations of the community created by those policies,” he wrote in a memo.

The county restricts certain public services — such as Medicaid, food stamps and other social services — to illegal aliens, but federal law prohibits such restrictions for other services, including emergency medical care and certain elder-care programs.

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