- The Washington Times - Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Prince William County officials voted unanimously last night to move forward with one of the toughest immigration policies in the country.

The eight-member Board of County Supervisors passed a resolution that requires police officers to ask about immigration status in all arrests if there is probable cause to believe that a suspect has violated federal immigration law. The resolution also requires county staff to verify a person’s legal status before providing certain public services.

Board Chairman Corey A. Stewart, at-large Republican, commended his colleagues for “stepping up to the plate” and taking action on immigration enforcement when the federal government has failed to do so.

“We’re going to do what we can,” he said prior to the vote, which came after nearly four hours of impassioned testimony from people for and against the tough policies. “We know this is a federal issue, but I think the citizens have a right to expect that their local government and the state government are going to do whatever they can to address the problem.”

The resolution, introduced last month by Supervisor John T. Stirrup Jr., Gainesville Republican, was amended before the meeting yesterday to clarify the circumstances under which county staff — including police — should ask about immigration status.

The resolution calls for the police department to establish standards of probable cause and methods by which officers can determine lawful presence, then report back to the board within 60 days.

“It gives us time to figure out some more of the details,” county Police Chief Charlie T. Deane said.

The original resolution required officers to ask about immigration status in all arrests, “regardless of the person’s national origin, ethnicity or race.”

The resolution also was amended to allow the board to clarify which public services the county can deny illegal aliens. The resolution asks County Executive Craig S. Gerhart to schedule a work session with the board within 90 days to help identify three categories of public services: those mandated by federal or state law, regardless of immigration status; those prohibited by federal or state law to illegal aliens; and those for which the county might have the discretion to deny illegal aliens.

The resolution is not designed to deny “emergency medical care or any other public benefits mandated by federal or state law.”

Language also was added to the resolution to recognize the benefit of legal immigration, “one of the very bedrock principles upon which our thriving society is built.”

Mr. Stirrup said he was “disturbed” by comments from some of the 115 people who spoke during the public comment period, characterizing the resolution as “anti-immigration.”

“In no way, shape or form is that what this is designed for,” he said. “This is about the rule of law. Unfortunately, that seems to have been lost in some of the press reports over the past few weeks. I have emphasized that. It’s what our American civilization is all about. We’re doing this directly in response to our community which has called repeatedly — repeatedly — for us to do something.”

Mr. Stirrup said he introduced the resolution in response to accusations that the county employs so-called “sanctuary policies” protecting illegal aliens — something county officials vehemently deny.

“Prince William County is not now, nor has it ever been, a ‘sanctuary’ for illegal immigration,” Chief Deane said in his address to the board.

He did caution supervisors against acting too rashly and warned of unintended consequences, including an end to community policing, perceptions of racism and racial profiling, increased crime among youth and higher taxes to fund the greater administrative costs.

“We must strike a balance in our policy,” Chief Deane said. “It must be the right balance or we will polarize the community and create more problems than we solve.”

The county population increased from roughly 281,000 in 2000 to 347,000 in 2005, census figures show. And the Hispanic population nearly doubled during that period, from roughly 9.7 percent to roughly 18 percent.

Board chambers were filled to capacity, and hundreds more sat in overflow seats in the lobby, watching the meeting on large-screen televisions.

The crowd grew impassioned at times, despite repeated warnings from Mr. Stewart to refrain from cheering, jeering, applause or other outbursts.

John Garcia of the Puerto Rican Legal Defense and Education Fund said he stood outside with “hundreds and hundreds of Latinos” who joined in during the invocation and recited the Pledge of Allegiance at the start of the meeting.

“Those are the people you’re targeting,” said Mr. Garcia, who opposed the resolution.

Other speakers include members of faith-based groups and members of Help Save Manassas, whose mission is to reduce the influx of illegal aliens in Prince William County.

Group President Greg Letiecq encouraged supervisors to pass the resolution.

“No more — no more tolerance for criminal illegal aliens who commit assault and battery, stalking, indecent exposure, driving while intoxicated or hit-and-run because these crimes aren’t supposedly serious enough to warrant even notifying the immigration authorities,” he said. “No more protection for illegal aliens who attempt to obtain taxpayer-funded services, which they are not entitled to receive in order to make their continued unlawful presence in the county more comfortable. No more selective enforcement of our laws in order to make it easier for vast numbers of illegal aliens to maintain in our midst.”

Other speakers denounced the resolution as “racist” and “xenophobic” and urged supervisors to reconsider.

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