- The Washington Times - Thursday, July 12, 2007

Prince William County police have 60 days to determine the circumstances under which officers may ask about immigration status — the details of which will emerge during work sessions with the Board of County Supervisors.

The eight-member board unanimously passed a revised resolution Tuesday that directs the police department to establish guidelines for immigration enforcement, including a definition of “probable cause” to ask suspects about their immigration status and methods for verifying a suspect’s legal presence in the country.

The resolution, introduced last month by Supervisor John T. Stirrup, Gainesville Republican, was stripped of its toughest measures, including a requirement that police officers ask about immigration status in all arrests, “regardless of the person’s national origin, ethnicity or race.”

“The current resolution is substantially different and substantially less troublesome,” County Attorney Ross G. Horton said before the vote Tuesday.

The resolution as passed requires officers to ask about immigration status in all arrests if there is probable cause to think that a suspect has violated federal immigration law.

Police Chief Charlie T. Deane said probable cause is “a high legal standard,” but declined to speculate on what would constitute probable cause in the case of immigration-law violations.

“I’m relieved [the resolution] has been softened and amended to give the police department and the county government time to work on the details,” hesaid following the vote. “From a police standpoint, I need to meet with the county attorney and prosecutors to make sure I understand what exactly it means.”

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 already prohibited by federal or state law to illegal aliens and those for which the county might have the discretion to deny illegal aliens.

“We haven’t finalized all those details,” he said following the vote. “There’s still a lot of details to be worked out. There are some things we are prohibited from asking. There are some things that are already prohibited by federal code, and we’re going to work through each and every one of those through the coming weeks and months.”

Despite the ambiguity of the resolution’s implications, supervisors denied that the resolution had been watered down.

“The criminal enterprise that supports and promotes and profits from illegal immigration — I think it sends a strong message to those folks to say, fundamentally, ‘We don’t want that business here anymore,’ ” Mr. Stirrup said. “And to the folks who are here illegally, it sends a message to them that they need to get legal.”

In addition to reaffirming the county’s commitment to uphold the law, the resolution strengthens police policy, said board Chairman Corey A. Stewart, at-large Republican.

“We’re going after the criminal element in the illegal [alien] community,” he said. “We’re going to find them. And when we find them, we’re going to do whatever we can to deport them.”

Greg Letiecq, president of the anti-illegal-alien advocacy group Help Save Manassas, said the resolution as passed is “just as bold as the original.”

“Help Save Manassas is very happy that the resolution passed,” he said yesterday. “It pretty much ends this discussion of ‘whether’ we should do it or not, and now the discussion is precisely ‘how.’ We’re not wondering whether — we’re wondering how.”

Kent Willis, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Virginia, said the work sessions ultimately will determine the significance of the resolution.

Mr. Willis, who wrote a letter to the board urging members to vote against the original resolution, said the redrafted resolution carries the same message.

“Symbolically, nothing has changed,” he said. “The real issue is the rapid growth of Latino communities. The real issue is not legal immigration. If there is significant reform at the federal level, I don’t think it really goes to the core of solving the issue, which in Virginia is reaction to the cultural change because of rapidly growing Latino communities.”

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