Manassas to Study County Immigration Measures

By Christy Goodman
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, July 15, 2007

Manassas officials say they are watching how Prince William County implements its new resolution cracking down on illegal immigrants.

In a vote watched nationally, the Prince William Board of County Supervisors unanimously approved a resolution Tuesday denying county services to illegal immigrants and ordering police to take a more vigorous approach in checking immigration status. County staff members have 90 days to fill in the details by determining which services will be denied and how and when to determine legal status.

Depending on the county's staff assessment, many services could affect residents in the city. The court system, libraries and health care are just a few services the jurisdictions share.

"We are going to follow what they are going to do," City Manager Lawrence D. Hughes said. "As a practical matter, we are right in the middle of where they are."

Hughes and several City Council members were quick to mention that Manassas was first to request, in October, that its police officers be trained by federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents to initiate deportation proceedings for illegal immigrants who have committed serious crimes.

The county is "taking a more aggressive posture now, as is Manassas and the jail," City Council member Jonathan L. Way (R) said.

The adult detention center, which houses inmates from the county, Manassas and Manassas Park, recently trained several officers in the federal immigration enforcement program. Officers are actively working with federal immigration agents to start the deportation process for "the worst of the worst" offenders at the jail, Superintendent Charles "Skip" Land said.

"As a small jurisdiction in Northern Virginia, the City of Manassas is doing as much or more than any other locality, including working closely with Prince William County, in trying to effectively combat illegal immigration by utilizing all existing local, state and federal resources available," Manassas Police Chief John J. Skinner said.

Police chiefs in the cities and county have partnered with the Prince William Sheriff's Office and Land "to develop a criminal illegal alien initiative" in which all local agencies would seek to be part of a single agreement with Immigration and Customs Enforcement, Skinner said. The master agreement would create a standard across the jurisdictions on deportation criteria, he said.

Manassas representatives have proposed to go beyond "the worst of the worst" to include "some serious misdemeanors, habitual misdemeanants, as well as felonies," Way said.

Manassas City Council member Marc T. Aveni (R) said he preferred letting the city move forward with its agreement with the federal immigration agency.

"Let's be the first one out of the box with the strongest Immigration and Customs Enforcement agreement and then everyone adopt ours, rather than we wait and we get stuck with somebody else's watered-down" agreement, he said.

Prince William and Manassas have the only police forces in Northern Virginia with an agreement in which officers have the power to enforce laws in either jurisdiction, Skinner said.

"Since we do share services, there may be issues that need to be resolved," council member Andrew L. Harrover (R) said.

Member J. Steven Randolph (I) said the council is an "obviously interested observer" but has no specific actions to limit city services at this time.

"I think it is imperative we wait and see what the final draft is before we take any action. It also will be interesting to see if they are on solid legal ground. If they are, I think the City of Manassas would implement similar programs," he said.

The Manassas City Council is under investigation by the Justice Department for passing a short-lived ordinance that attempted to define a family, which many said targeted Hispanics.

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