- The Washington Times - Tuesday, June 5, 2007

A Northern Virginia group trying to reduce the influx of illegal aliens asked Prince William County yesterday to reverse its policy of prohibiting police officers from asking non-felony suspects about their immigration status.

“We have come before you today to ask that you exercise your oversight powers over the police department to ensure that they comply with federal law, comply with the will of your constituents and help improve the safety of the community,” Help Save Manassas President Greg Letiecq told the county’s Board of Supervisors. “It is illegal. It must be revoked.”

Mr. Letiecq was joined by about 20 other group members who also asked county officials to reconsider the so-called “sanctuary policy.”

Police Chief Charlie T. Deane attended the meeting and said officers do not ask about one’s immigration status when issuing traffic citations or handling less serious crimes. However, they ask a suspect arrested in a felony or involved in a criminal gang, or one who uses a gun while committing a crime.

The chief said officers also notify U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) “when deemed appropriate.”

“The police department’s primary mission is to control crime and community safety,” he said. “Immigration enforcement is a complicated national issue that could divert significant and limited resources from its primary mission. We have chosen a balanced policy that prioritizes the use of police resources coupled with the enhanced immigration training … within our jails.”

Correctional officers at the Prince William-Manassas Regional Adult Detention Center are in the process of partnering with ICE to implement a federally funded program, known as 287(g), that trains local police to carry out some duties of federal immigration officers.

Herndon police began program training last month.

Mr. Letiecq said a sanctuary policy in Virginia Beach led to the deaths of two teenagers killed by a drunken driver — an illegal alien with three alcohol-related convictions.

Virginia Beach last month reversed the policy after drawing national criticism.

“This is a national tragedy that could potentially visit the citizens of Prince William County,” Mr. Letiecq said.

Chief Deane said the department’s two-year-old policy is similar to those of other departments in the region.

The Metropolitan Police Department has had a similar policy in place since 1984, which officials say is to encourage immigrants to work with officers and report crimes that they otherwise might not do out of fear of deportation.

“There are victims that are Latinos, and they fear reporting because of ICE,” said Detective Charlie Bonilla of the department’s Latino Liaison Unit. “We’re here to serve everyone if they’re a victim of a crime.”

The Congressional Research Service (CRS), Congress’ nonpartisan research arm, defines sanctuary cities as localities that “promote polices that ensure [illegal] aliens will not be turned over to federal authorities.”

A CRS report last year listed 32 sanctuary cities, which included Takoma Park and Baltimore. Neither the District nor Prince William County were listed.

Opponents of local immigration law enforcement, including the country’s oldest and largest coalition of municipal governments, say immigration is a federal problem and that the federal government should enforce its own laws.

The National League of Cities opposes mandates for local officers to enforce federal immigration laws. The federal government must implement a more uniform policy to replace the current “hodgepodge” of enforcement policies developing at the local level, Dennis P. Zine, a Los Angeles City Council member and chairman of the league’s immigration task force, said recently.

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