- The Washington Times - Monday, July 30, 2007

Federal immigration officials say they lack the resources to fulfill a proposed mandate by Virginia lawmakers to train staff at every state jail to start deportation procedures for illegal aliens.

“I cannot make that commitment to Virginia,” said William F. Reid, special agent in charge of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s Washington field office.

Mr. Reid told members of the State Crime Commission’s illegal-immigration task force at a meeting Tuesday in Richmond that the state’s request would be evaluated against nationwide requests.

Twenty-two law-enforcement agencies nationwide have entered formal agreements with ICE to complete the training, authorized under Section 287(g) of the Immigration and Nationality Act, agency spokesman Richard Rocha said.

More than 65 other agencies have requested 287(g) training, he said.

ICE requested $26.4 million for 287(g) training from Congress for its fiscal 2008 budget, which would fund the training of 250 state and local law-enforcement officers, 350 jail beds and enforcement-related technology.

On Thursday, the Senate passed its version of the homeland security spending bill for 2008, which includes an additional $5.4 million for the 287(g) program. The bill also allows money left over from $3 billion in emergency border- and interior-enforcement funding to go to the training program.

The bill now must be squared with the House version.

Virginia Sen. Kenneth W. Stolle, co-chairman of the task force, proposed the mandate to create a uniform, statewide policy on illegal aliens — starting with Virginia’s 73 local and regional jails.

“I assume that if the state of Virginia drafts legislation to require sheriffs to do this across the commonwealth, that you would be willing to provide the training across the commonwealth,” Mr. Stolle, Virginia Beach Republican, said Tuesday at the meeting.

Requests for training are evaluated by ICE agents on a case-by-case basis at field offices near the requesting agencies, Mr. Rocha said.

“Our local agents and officers will meet with that agency to talk about what challenges they are facing,” he said, adding that ICE offers other enforcement programs that may better suit a particular community. “If someone asks us for assistance, we’re going to work with those local law-enforcement agencies to determine how we can best tackle the problems in their specific area.”

State Sen. Jay O’Brien, Fairfax Republican, last year introduced legislation encouraging localities to participate in 287(g) training but did not make it mandatory statewide. The bill was rejected, like many of the roughly 50 immigration-related ones introduced in the General Assembly last year.

Not all localities experience the same problems with illegal aliens, Mr. O’Brien said, adding that he would support allocating state funds for voluntary immigration-enforcement programs.

“It would be a waste of resources … to mandate it for those local governments that don’t need it,” he said. “If a local government wants to participate in a program, established by the state, because of a significant impact of illegal immigration in their locality, the state government should assist them in this issue.”

Delegate Robert G. Marshall, Prince William Republican, declined to say whether he would support using state funds for immigration enforcement, but said the federal government should pay to enforce its own laws.

“If we’re doing the job of the federal government, they should be humiliated that they wouldn’t offer to pay for all of this,” said Mr. Marshall, who sits on a separate commission studying the effects of illegal aliens on the state. “I’m not going to start putting the state’s cards on the table until the federal government is going to openly say, ‘We don’t have the interest. The state of Virginia can [forget] their efforts to enforce immigration law.’ ”

There are an estimated 12 million to 20 million illegal aliens in the United States. More than 250,000 of them lived in Virginia in 2005, according to the Pew Hispanic Center.

John W. Jones, executive director of the Virginia Sheriff’s Association, supports sheriffs playing a larger role in immigration enforcement.

“It makes sense that if a person is in this country illegally and they commit a crime, the government has a responsibility to do something about it,” said Mr. Jones, also a member of the immigration task force. “It’s a tremendous task to go out on the street and figure out who’s here illegally, but it’s not a tremendous task to figure it out once they’re in jail.”

The sheriff’s association, whose members operate the state’s 55 local jails, is scheduled to discuss the issue at its annual meeting in September, he said.

“We have to look at the legislation first,” Mr. Jones said. “It’s going to require some additional funding. It’s a moving target right now.”

Virginia also has 18 regional jails, which are jointly operated by multiple localities.

The Prince William-Manassas Regional Adult Detention Center recently formalized its 287(g) agreement with ICE.

Glenn Aylor, president of the Virginia Association of Regional Jails, said the association supports efforts to enhance public safety, but questioned the availability of funding, staffing and other resources necessary for statewide implementation.

“All the jails across the state are understaffed as it is,” said Mr. Aylor, superintendent of the Central Virginia Regional Jail in Orange. “We’re working with the bare bones as it is to do what we have to do.”

He also said he would support the mandate — which would need approval from the full General Assembly — as long as sheriffs and jail superintendents were given the resources.

“We’re never opposed to doing things that increase law enforcement or provide services to our citizens and keep our communities safe,” Mr. Aylor said. “We would be in support of it, provided we were given the right number of staff and the right amount of funds to do it correctly.”

c Stephen Dinan contributed to this report.

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