Bill Would Link Funds, Verification by Localities

By Sandhya Somashekhar
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, August 25, 2007

A delegate from Prince William County said this week that he will introduce a bill that would cut off state funding to local governments that fail to check the immigration status of residents who get public assistance.

Del. Jeffrey M. Frederick (R) said the legislation would toughen a 2005 Virginia law that forbids local governments to provide some social services to illegal immigrants. He plans to call for every county, city and town to prove its compliance with the law by adopting policies similar to those proposed in Prince William and Loudoun County, which voted this summer to deny services to illegal immigrants and step up law enforcement efforts against them.

Those who don't comply should lose all their state funding, including allotments for transportation and economic development, he said.

"Illegal aliens should not have a sanctuary in the commonwealth of Virginia," said Frederick, whose mother is from Colombia and who says he is the first Latino elected to state office in Virginia. "We don't need to provide them with an incentive to cut the line and break the rules."

The legislation is aimed primarily at such counties as Arlington and Fairfax, where officials have said they would prefer to leave immigration enforcement to federal authorities. Leaders in both counties also have said they do not support increasing cooperation between local police and immigration authorities for fear that even legal immigrants will be afraid to report crimes and help with investigations.

Frederick's effort heightens the tensions prompted recently over the differing approaches to what has become a key local issue. Last week, Corey A. Stewart (R-At Large), Prince William Board of County Supervisors chairman, publicly denounced his Fairfax counterpart for declining to participate in a training program that allows police officers to gain access to federal immigration databases and quickly deport criminals.

Gerald E. Connolly, chairman of the Fairfax Board of Supervisors, accused Stewart this week of "political posturing." In an interview on WMAL radio, Connolly (D) said many of the county's social and housing programs require proof of legal status. However, he has said his approach has been to deal with the complaints often associated with illegal immigration, such as gangs and residential crowding, not illegal immigration itself.

"We are trying to focus on the nature of the problem in the neighborhood rather than on status because that's not our mission," he said in a separate interview with The Washington Post last month. "That's a federal mission. We've got our hands full at the local level."

Connolly did not return phone calls yesterday afternoon.

In his announcement Thursday, Frederick was harshest about Arlington, accusing the county government of knowingly providing housing subsidies to illegal immigrants. Arlington Board Chairman Paul Ferguson (D) denied the charge. He said the county does not actively seek information about residents' immigration status unless required by law.

That's not proactive enough, said Stewart, who praised Frederick. "I think that most counties are very happy to participate and try to crack down on illegal immigration," Stewart said. "But there are a couple of laggards, and if [a new state law is] required to protect the residents of Northern Virginia, so be it."

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