- The Washington Times - Saturday, September 29, 2007

The federal government would reimburse Virginia for financing a 1,000-bed detention center for illegal aliens awaiting deportation under a plan being sorted out by the state crime commission.

Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officials are “trying to look at the number of people they can guarantee payment for,” said Delegate David B. Albo, Fairfax County Republican and commission chairman. “Then we can determine the prison cost and which offenses would be included in the detention facility.”

The Virginia State Crime Commission next month is expected to consider the proposal, which is based on a recommendation made this week by its Illegal Immigration Task Force. The commission is expected to forward a recommendation to the General Assembly, which could introduce related legislation next year.

Gov. Tim Kaine, a Democrat, said he was willing to consider the plan as long as the state is not saddled with the entire bill.

“We’re willing to partner,” Mr. Kaine said, “but we’re not going to take on that primary federal responsibility on our nickel.”

Mr. Albo, estimating a $60 million bill for the facility, said it would likely be built in or close to Northern Virginia, due to the region’s burgeoning illegal alien population.

The facility would be tailored to stop illegal aliens from being released after serving jail sentences for minor crimes such as driving under the influence and drug possession.

“Our corrections system needs the capacity to hold illegal aliens convicted of state crimes until they can be deported,” said Attorney General Bob McDonnell, a Republican whose office helped develop the plan.

“Currently, ICE is not able to pick up all illegal aliens convicted of deportable criminal offenses under federal law in part due to the absence of detention space,” he said.

ICE, which already pays Virginia for holding hundreds of illegal immigrants, would refund the state by paying for each person held at the center.

Jessica Vaughan, senior policy analyst at the D.C.-based Center for Immigration Studies, said the plan is a winner for ICE because its 5,500 agents are “hopelessly outnumbered” by the estimated 12 million illegals nationwide — about 300,000 of whom reside in Virginia.

“That means many illegal aliens who are arrested and jailed by local officers are not being processed for removal,” she said.

Immigrant advocacy groups warn that the plan would encourage racial profiling and create a chilling effect for all immigrants, making them less likely to report crimes.

Next month, the state crime commission will also consider requiring local law enforcement officials to work on creating a database of illegal aliens accused of crimes and demanding federal immigration officials clarify which crimes will lead to deportation.

“In a perfect world you get them all, but we understand that’s not possible,” Mr. Albo said. “So we are asking what crimes can you guarantee” will result in an illegal being deported?

Illegal immigration has snowballed into a prominent election-year issue for state lawmakers. All 140 seats of the General Assembly are up for grabs Nov. 6.

Republicans have outlined proposals on the issue that they plan to introduce after the General Assembly convenes next year. Among them is a plan to require sheriffs to confirm an arrested person’s legal status and to require every jail to have an official who is certified to detain illegal aliens during the deportation process.

Meanwhile, Democrats have focused their attention on employers who hire illegal aliens. Democratic challengers in Prince William County say employers should be fined $10,000 for every illegal alien knowingly hired, and employers need new tools to assess their employees’ legal status.

Both Republicans and Democrats have called for making a federal conviction for hiring illegal aliens grounds for suspending Virginia business licenses.

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