Herndon Police May Join Immigration Enforcement

By Bill Turque
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, September 22, 2006

Herndon officials are considering applying for a federal program that would train some of the town's police officers to enforce U.S. immigration law, including the initiation of deportation proceedings.

Police Chief Toussaint E. Summers Jr. asked the Town Council on Tuesday to contact U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement to express interest in enrolling some of the town's officers in the agency's five-week "287(g)" program, a provision of the Immigration and Nationality Act. Officers who pass the course are authorized to question or detain people they believe to be in the country illegally. They can also collaborate with federal agents on immigration cases.

The proposal, which the council is expected to discuss Tuesday night, once again lands the western Fairfax County town of 23,000 in the middle of the national debate over immigration policy. Herndon has the highest proportion of foreign-born residents of any locality in the Washington area, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

In August 2005, after weeks of bitter community debate, during which the Town Hall switchboard was paralyzed by a wave of calls prompted by radio talk shows, the council voted to open a publicly funded center to help the town's burgeoning population of immigrant day laborers find work.

In May, Herndon voters ousted Mayor Michael L. O'Reilly and two council members who had supported the center's establishment, replacing them with challengers, including new Mayor Stephen J. DeBenedittis, all highly critical of the idea.

The 287(g) proposal comes a week after Latino residents expressed dismay over the council's passage of a pared-down resolution proclaiming Sept.15- Oct. 15 Hispanic Heritage Month.

Resolutions in previous years mentioned the more than three-dozen Hispanic recipients of the Medal of Honor and the "unique gifts" that those with Spanish roots bring to the country in science, athletics, education and the arts.

Last week's resolution omitted those items. Town officials told the Herndon Times this week that there was no overt attempt to devalue Hispanic Heritage Month and that the resolution went through the standard drafting process.

In an interview yesterday, Summers said his proposal was triggered in part by new members of the council who had "expressed interest."

The apparent willingness of the council to consider the program represents a sharp departure from O'Reilly's tenure, when council members clearly stated that they would leave immigration enforcement to the federal government.

Summers said that federal officials would still lead the way but that Herndon wanted to help the program root out "criminal aliens" who had committed major offenses and were a threat to public safety or national security. The Bureau of Immigration and Customs Enforcement is a part of the Department of Homeland Security.

"Our community wants to help support the country in homeland security," Summers said. Local officers could "start the paperwork" for deportation of illegal immigrants, he said, until immigration agents were available to take over the cases.

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