Citing Cost, Prince William Delays Immigrant Measures
Wednesday, October 3, 2007
Prince William County supervisors slowed their closely watched crackdown on illegal immigrants yesterday, as one of the nation's most aggressive efforts at local enforcement has run into the reality of budget constraints at a time of declining revenue.
County supervisors remained united in wanting to show that local governments can do more to rid their towns of illegal immigrants, voting unanimously to support a new police policy that increases residency checks and improves cooperation with federal immigration authorities. But when it came to allocating the $14.2 million it would cost to implement the policy, the supervisors balked, voting to revisit the issue later.
The board's vote, taken late yesterday afternoon after spirited public debate, delays the implementation of the key elements of the immigration policy.
Specifically, supervisors said it was too soon to commit money for any of the measures. With property values falling by 10 percent or more and a $575,000 cut in state funding for county police services projected, several supervisors urged more time and caution.
"Part of me feels like we've been pulled away from our central mission," said Supervisor W.S. "Wally" Covington III (R-Brentsville). "For me, what this has always been about is what the cost is."
Supervisors also postponed their vote on proposals that would have denied county services to illegal immigrants, arguing that more time is needed to study the costs and potential consequences. The suggested service cuts outlined at yesterday's meeting did not put a price on tighter residency checks by county staff members. Supervisors also postponed their vote on funding a seven-officer Criminal Alien Unit within the police department.
Board Chairman Corey A. Stewart (R-At Large) pushed hard to get the measures approved and funded, insisting that the board vote on them no later than Oct. 16. Stewart, who is running for reelection and has taken credit for the county's anti-illegal immigration policies, presented the vote as a pressing public safety issue.
"We have broad and deep public support," Stewart said. ". . . Although the cost is not insignificant, it does at least help to bring in and take criminal illegal aliens off the streets."
But the decision to delay a vote on funding was a sign that fissures have begun to appear in the board's determination to make the county inhospitable to illegal immigrants.
Amid much national attention, county supervisors voted unanimously in July on a resolution to cut county services to illegal immigrants and ratchet up police enforcement. Since then, county staff members and others have raised questions about what services could be legally denied. Then came questions about costs. Last month, Police Chief Charlie T. Deane presented the board with an estimate of $14.2 million to implement the police portion of the plan over the next five years.
Under that plan, officers would check the immigration status of anyone who breaks the law if they have probable cause to believe that the person is an illegal immigrant. Police would also improve cooperation with federal immigration authorities to aid deportation proceedings and create the Criminal Alien Unit.
"Immigration isn't the only issue in this county," said the board's vice chairman, Martin E. Nohe (R-Coles). "Paying for all this is going to be difficult."