Anxiety On Costs Of Illegal Residents

By Timothy Dwyer
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, December 18, 2006

The Prince William Board of County Supervisors, alarmed at the financial impact of illegal immigration, has called for a wide-ranging study to determine how much money the problem is costing the county government.

The board's request for a staff study is unusual. Neither the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments nor the National Council of La Raza, a leading national Hispanic civil rights group, said they could recall any recent studies by local governments attempting to assess the cost of illegal immigration.

The supervisors' demand for the study signals that illegal immigration will be an urgent topic for board members heading into 2007, when they are up for reelection. Supervisors say a wave of immigrants is driving up costs for schools, social services, health care and law enforcement.

As a sign of the board's frustration over illegal immigration, one supervisor wants to go so far as to demand that the federal government reimburse the county for the additional costs.

"By putting a number on the cost, this gives us an opportunity to push back on the federal government and say, 'Look what you are doing to us on the local government level,' " said Supervisor W.S. Covington III (R-Brentsville), who proposed the study. "I mean, it is the federal government's responsibility to regulate commerce. They are the ones who are supposed to secure the borders."

County Executive Craig S. Gerhart is supposed to complete the report by Jan. 16. Covington said he will then propose sending a bill to the federal government for the full amount.

Prince William, where about 20 percent of residents are foreign-born, joins a number of local governments grappling with a wave of new residents, many of them illegal immigrants. The nearby city of Manassas has been trying to prevent illegal immigrants from clustering in single-family homes. Herndon also has approved measures aimed at deterring illegal immigrants from living or working there.

In Prince William, the development boom has attracted undocumented workers looking for jobs. Those workers' children have enrolled in county schools, and the families have used county social services and health-care facilities.

"I can tell you that my constituents are very angry about this issue," said Covington, who also recently pushed through a one-year freeze on new-home construction. "I think they are going to be demanding more and more as time goes on that the appropriate measures are being taken."

At the urging of Supervisor John T. Stirrup Jr. (R-Gainesville), the study will include the impact on the police department and jail and court system. Supervisor Maureen S. Caddigan (R-Dumfries) requested that the county's hospitals and health clinics also be reviewed.

"Illegal immigration is a big problem in Prince William County," Caddigan said. "We want to have a solution to it and do whatever it takes to solve it. Nobody is moving on it. The federal government is not doing anything to work on illegal immigration. It is only getting worse."

County staff members have told the supervisors that it could be difficult to meet the Jan. 16 deadline because of the holidays and because they are immersed in preparing the next budget.

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