- Special to The Washington Times - Wednesday, October 17, 2012

The federal government is canceling a model program that gives local police the ability to check the immigration status of people they arrest in Prince William County, Va. And that has proponents of the policy, called 287(g), seeing red.

“In the debate last night, President Obama said he wanted to focus in on illegals who are committing crimes,” Corey Stewart, chairman of the Prince William County Board of Supervisors and a key force in the county’s 2007 adoption of the 287(g) program, told Times247.com in an interview Wednesday. “Then why is he eliminating the very program that does that?”

The 287(g) program is a partnership between federal and local law enforcement officials. Local police are trained to check the residency status of people they arrest; illegals are then reported to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement for possible deportation. The program began under President Clinton as a way to curb crime and illegal immigration while taking pressure off the federal budget. An estimated 60 communities ultimately signed 287(g) agreements with ICE, many of which had looked to Prince William as a model.

“We became the largest jurisdiction in the country to have a 287(g) program in place,” Mr. Stewart said. “We had thousands of people protesting our meetings. We got national, even international, press attention. And since, there have been approximately 5,500 illegal aliens in Prince William County who have committed crimes who were then handed over to ICE.”

Arizona modeled its illegal immigration control plan on Prince William’s.

“We were the pioneers in this effort,” Mr. Stewart said.

Come Dec. 31, all that will change.

The Obama administration — fresh off a lengthy, heated battle with Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer over immigration policy — announced in June its intent to halt 287(g) partnerships. Prince William’s three-year agreement with ICE ends in two months. Supervisors learned Tuesday that ICE would not renew its partnership.

“ ‘Budget cuts’ is what they said. But the real reason is they are playing politics,” Mr. Stewart said of the federal government’s decision to end the program. “You know what the total savings nationally for eliminating the 287(g) program will be? It’s $17 million. That’s it. … So this is just politics.”

For Prince William, the result will prove disastrous, Mr. Stewart said.

“Right now, the last place illegals want to be is Prince William. But I think that as the construction industry starts humming along in Northern Virginia, you’re going to have a return of illegals. As they come in for construction jobs, landscaping … as that happens, and we have no way to identify the illegal immigrants who commit crimes, they’ve got no reason to stay away from Prince William County.”

The federal government is replacing 287(g) with another immigration program, called Secure Communities, that is aimed at identifying illegals. But Mr. Stewart said that database only contains a small fraction of the names of illegals around the nation.

“Of the 12 to 20 million illegals, only about 500,000 are in that database,” he said. “Sixty percent of illegal immigrants that were apprehended in Prince William [under 287(g)] would not have been identified under the Secure Communities program.”

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