Loudoun Sheriff's Candidates Tackle Immigration

By Bill Brubaker
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, September 26, 2007; 12:36 PM

The three candidates in the Loudoun County sheriff's race sparred last night over whether illegal immigration should be the top priority of law enforcement officers in one of the nation's fastest-growing jurisdictions.

Republican candidate Greg Ahlemann said that the presence of illegal immigrants in the county is "the issue in this race" and that the large number of non-English speakers in Sterling Park suggests there are undocumented workers in that heavily Hispanic community.

"Clearly, we've seen a move, a change. I've seen it firsthand from working on the streets of Sterling Park since 1997 and how the demographics have changed," Ahlemann, a former Loudoun sheriff's deputy, said in the debate sponsored by the League of Women Voters of Loudoun County.

"I know that many of the people that I arrested initially who had no identification, couldn't speak any English -- I'm just going to guess that they might have been here illegally."

Democratic candidate Mike George, a former narcotics and organized crime detective who helped create Fairfax County's gang intelligence unit in the mid-1990s, said defending against terrorist attacks should be a greater priority in Loudoun than illegal immigration.

"I think the homeland security threat is the Number 1 priority," said George, who is director of investigative services for the Recording Industry Association of America, a trade group. "There are problems with the immigration. I'm not for illegal immigration. I think there are people cutting in line, in front of millions of other people. But we really have to work on preparing for terrorism threats. . . . To fight terrorism takes a whole community. We are not prepared right now."

Loudoun County Sheriff Stephen O. Simpson, who is seeking his fourth term, cited gang violence, terrorism and traffic as the biggest issues, noting that violent crimes decreased in the county between 2005 and 2006.

"We're going to continue to face the same problems . . . as the county continues to grow," said Simpson, who is running as an independent because he lost to Ahlemann in the Loudoun County Republican Committee convention in June.

"We have been very aggressive in dealing with gangs. . . . That doesn't mean it's gone away," Simpson said. "Traffic is going to continue to be a problem. . . . And with the constant threat of homeland security issues, the constant threat being as close to D.C. . . . this is going to be something the sheriff is going to have to continue to deal with."

Ahlemann has made illegal immigration the centerpiece of his campaign. In the debate at Ida Lee Park Recreation Center, he said that 4,000 students are enrolled in programs for English as a second language in Loudoun schools and speculated that 100 of them could be illegal immigrants.

Simpson and George each attacked Ahlemann's attempts to link gang crime and illegal immigration to the Hispanic community in Sterling Park.

"I do think it's wrong to assume -- like some people do -- that everyone who is in Sterling that's Hispanic is, first of all, illegal, and second of all, a gang member," Simpson said. "That's just not true. . . . In Loudoun County, only about one out of about 20 people we deal with that are in gangs are illegal. So you have to be very careful when you start pointing fingers . . . in a political campaign."

George seemed to agree. "We can't look at a certain culture and say they're gang members," he said. "I've worked Asian crimes. I've worked Nigerian crimes. I've worked Russian mafia crimes. There's crime in every culture and every race. . . . We need to target a crime, we don't need to target a culture."

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