Pr. William Passes Resolution Targeting Illegal Immigration

An overflow crowd at the Prince William government complex watches the board meeting on the immigration measure on TVs in the lobby.
An overflow crowd at the Prince William government complex watches the board meeting on the immigration measure on TVs in the lobby. (By Tracy A. Woodward -- The Washington Post)
By Nick Miroff
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Prince William County supervisors voted unanimously last night to approve a resolution that targets illegal immigrants by attempting to curb their access to public services and increasing immigration enforcement by local police.

But the resolution approved last night significantly weakens a previous proposal, removing or altering several of its toughest measures but asking county employees to look for ways to lawfully deny services to illegal immigrants.

The largest board meeting crowd in 20 years showed up for the vote at the county government complex, turning Prince William into a microcosm of a debate playing out in communities across the country in the wake of Congress's failure to reform immigration laws.

"How are we supposed to survive here?" asked Gregorio Calderón, a legal U.S. resident from El Salvador who said he worries that police will harass him because of his ethnicity. "They're going to pull me over just for being Hispanic."

The previous resolution would have required officers to check the residency status of anyone who breaks a law, no matter how minor. The measure approved yesterday directs officers to check the status of anyone in police custody who they suspect is an illegal immigrant.

The changes were made after county attorneys, police and supervisors expressed concerns about the legality of some of the measures. The new resolution would not deny access to schools and other legally mandated services. Another measure that would have allowed residents to sue the county for providing services to illegal immigrants was also stripped out.

But the measures still place Prince William at the forefront of Virginia jurisdictions that are trying to check illegal immigration.

"This resolution does have teeth and changes county policy immediately," said board Chairman Corey A. Stewart (R-Occoquan).

Protests before and after the vote and the unusually large crowd outside the board chambers created a charged atmosphere. More than 100 people addressed board members, delaying the vote. Hundreds of others watched on big-screen TVs in the lobby and were reminded to refrain from applauding or booing. One speaker was removed.

When Supervisor John T. Stirrup Jr. (R-Gainesville) introduced the resolution last month, he said its goal was to deny all public services to illegal immigrants and order local police to check the residency status of anyone caught breaking the law. The altered version charts a more cautious course.

Stirrup's resolution had said that illegal immigration is causing "economic hardship and lawlessness" in Prince William and that county agencies may be encouraging illegal immigration by failing to verify immigration status as a condition of providing public services.

The measure "is the first step towards taking back our community," he said.

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