- The Washington Times - Saturday, March 3, 2007

Local government officials in Virginia are eyeing joint efforts to address the burdens illegal aliens put on their communities.

“We’re looking towards a very doable coalition of local municipalities that want to have it addressed and feel the need to have it addressed,” said F. Steve Jenkins, a member of the Culpeper Town Council, which in January proposed a study to determine the cost of illegal aliens using public services.

Culpeper’s study is not yet complete, but officials in Prince William County found in a study released in January that their agencies spent more than $3 million last year on public services for illegal aliens.

Prince William County Supervisor W.S. “Wally” Covington said sharing ideas such as the financial-burden study shows that some localities are taking appropriate steps in stemming the flood of illegal aliens.

“We are all sort of joining together in different forms of addressing this,” Mr. Covington said. “I think that’s happening now as more studies are being done. We turned a different corner when we said we’re going to address the cost issue.”

Chesterfield County, a Richmond suburb, recently joined the growing list of localities to request similar studies. Its Board of Supervisors on Wednesday voted unanimously to ask its county staff to conduct a financial-burden study.

“It’s purely about the cost and how it affects the taxpayer,” Mr. Covington said. “How do we work our budgets in a manner that discourages illegal immigration?”

Opponents have expressed concern over local jurisdictions taking on what they see as a federal matter.

“Immigration is a federal issue,” said Kent Willis, director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Virginia. “There is no authority for states and localities to essentially create their own immigration laws, and that’s part of what’s going on here. If localities have a concern about illegal immigration, then they ought to put their energy into persuading federal officials to take a different approach.”

Mr. Willis said laws targeting illegal aliens unfairly punish all immigrants — in this case, Hispanics.

“To a large extent, this is not about illegal immigration but about the growing Latino population in Virginia,” he said. “Whether or not these policies flow from bias against Latinos, it is Latinos who are going to feel the brunt of it — and not just illegal Latinos but all Latinos. The result of these policies is profiling at its worst.”

Still, advocates of tougher local enforcement said the problem cannot be ignored.

“It’s the government’s responsibility, but they’re not addressing it at the cost level,” Mr. Covington said. “It’s part of a process that says, ‘If the federal government is not going to help us, we’re going to be active in our discouragement of illegals.’ ”

Prince William County officials say the $3 million probably is an underestimate, because it lacks data from public schools and the health department, which, along with many other public agencies, are not required by the federal or state governments to verify a person’s legal status before providing services.

Mr. Covington questioned whether programs such as English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL) classes should be publicly funded, even though the citizenship status of its participants is unknown.

“Should we be responsible for [ESOL] programs?” he asked. “If the government is telling us we can’t determine which students are legal and which are illegal, that tells me we need to shut down the whole program. I hate to do that to legal students, but our budgets can’t continue to absorb the whole thing.”

The Culpeper County School Board on Monday determined that it’s impossible to gauge the cost of illegal aliens because school officials don’t know the citizenship status of students, Mr. Jenkins said.

He has proposed using the number of students enrolled in ESOL classes to estimate the number of illegal aliens in schools, but acknowledged that not all immigrants are illegal aliens.

Culpeper also could join Prince William, Herndon and other localities in training corrections officers at local jails to start deportation procedures for illegal aliens. Culpeper’s public-safety committee is considering the training, which a Locust Grove, Va., woman has offered to fund.

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