- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 14, 2012

RICHMOND — A federal judge has blocked Prince William County’s pursuit of information on the more than 4,000 criminal illegal immigrants the county has turned over to Immigration and Customs Enforcement since implementing its controversial crackdown in 2007.

U.S. District Judge James C. Cacheris said that ICE responded adequately when it provided redacted documents on the subject to the county last year, and that the county failed to provide follow-up information to the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) to fulfill another request.

Prince William Board of County Supervisors Chairman Corey A. Stewart said the ruling earlier this month wasn’t unexpected — he said Judge Cacheris thought the county should have exhausted its administrative options before taking the case to court — but he blasted the federal government for shutting out the county and its residents from information they deserve to know.

“Why they continue to stonewall Prince William County, why they continue to stonewall our law enforcement, is inexcusable,” he said.

County officials began seeking the information after a high-profile incident in August 2010 in which Carlos A. Martinelly Montano, an illegal immigrant who twice had been convicted of drunken driving, was charged with killing a Benedictine nun while again driving drunk. Martinelly Montano was found guilty of felony murder in October and was sentenced to 20 years in prison in February.

In November 2010, the board submitted a Freedom of Information Act request to ICE for information on the illegal immigrants taken into ICE custody since Jan. 1, 2008.

ICE provided a three-page response Feb. 11, 2011, which included partially redacted spreadsheets for two of the county’s three requests: copies of records and reports of the individuals, and copies of their status or disposition. ICE explained that other files the board had requested were held by USCIS, and that the request was being turned over to that agency.

The court said the request referred to USCIS was “administratively defective” because the agency had requested additional information — written consent and verifications of identity for the individuals, including their alien number, name, date of birth and country of birth — that the county never provided.

County officials argued that the Congressional Privacy Act only applies to U.S. citizens, and ICE should not have redacted the files for the same reason — because the request concerned illegal immigrants who were not protected under privacy laws.

Believing they had exhaustedtheir administrative remedies, county officials sued in U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Alexandria in August to obtain the records that were being withheld.

“We see this as a bump in the road, but it’s certainly not the end of the case,” Mr. Stewart said.

Martinelly Montano, who entered the country illegally with his family in 1996, had been released by the county into Homeland Security custody and was awaiting a deportation hearing when the incident occurred.

Prince William County officials released him from custody in October 2008 after his second drunken-driving conviction, after which ICE began removal proceedings and released him back into the community under its supervision with a global positioning system tracker.

The Justice Department, though, delayed his deportation hearing multiple times, even as he had several minor run-ins with the law in 2009 and 2010 that were not reported to ICE.

Since January 2009, ICE has changed its policy regarding the apprehension, detention and removal of criminal aliens who pose a threat to the public, and ICE Director John Morton outlined the policies in a memorandum in June 2010.

Under the new policies, Mr. Martinelly Montano likely would have been detained had he been turned over to ICE, the report said. The department deported a record 393,000 illegal immigrants in fiscal 2010, about half of which were “non-criminal” immigrant violators.

Prince William County became the focus of national attention in 2007 when it passed an ordinance that initially would have required police to check the immigration status of suspected criminals if they had probable cause to think they were in the country illegally. It was later modified so that immigration status would be checked for anyone held in custody.

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