Fairfax Studies Denial of Services to Illegal Immigrants

By Amy Gardner
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Fairfax County officials are trying to determine which county services can be denied to illegal immigrants, mirroring initial steps taken in nearby Loudoun and Prince William counties to explore anti-immigrant crackdowns.

But County Executive Anthony H. Griffin said he ordered the examination for informational purposes and has no plans to recommend a change in the county's policy of policing illegal behavior rather than immigration status. Griffin said he is gathering the information at the request of Supervisor Michael R. Frey (R-Sully).

In an internal memo, Griffin directed his staff to identify the number of illegal immigrants living in Fairfax and compile two lists: one of services the government is required to provide regardless of legal status, and another of services it is prohibited from providing to undocumented residents.

The review parallels steps taken in Loudoun and Prince William that eventually would lead to legislation cracking down on illegal immigrants. Leaders in both counties have aggressively pursued crackdowns, with Prince William set to vote late yesterday on proposals to deny certain services to illegal immigrants and asking local police to identify and help deport them.

Fairfax officials, led by Board of Supervisors Chairman Gerald E. Connolly (D), have accused their neighbors of pandering to anti-immigration sentiment and offering solutions they can't afford and don't have authority to implement.

Prince William and Loudoun politicians, meanwhile, have criticized Connolly as being soft on illegal immigration. Connolly has defended the county's policy of cracking down on such violations as illegal boardinghouses and home businesses instead of immigration status, so legal immigrants feel welcome in Fairfax.

Connolly did not return phone calls yesterday, but Griffin echoed that view by suggesting that his review is likely to demonstrate that Fairfax is checking legal status when required by law.

"We're essentially doing what we're supposed to be doing," Griffin said.

Frey, one of three Republicans on the county's 10-member board, agreed with his colleagues that leaders in Loudoun and Prince William are "grandstanding." But he disagreed with Griffin about what the review is likely to show.

"I'd love to be proven wrong," Frey said. "But I don't think the answers are going to be what they should be. I think they ought to be that we're following the law, and I don't know that we are."

As examples, Frey cited programs such as child-care subsidies and low-income housing that are partly funded with federal dollars. Frey mentioned a 620-unit apartment complex in Annandale that the board agreed to purchase Monday for $107 million. The purchase is part of the board's goal to preserve affordable housing.

"I have absolutely no doubt that many of those residents are not legal," Frey said.

But Griffin countered that no federal dollars are being used to purchase the property, which is on Little River Turnpike just inside the Capital Beltway. The county is not obligated to require documentation for services funded locally. Many county services require residency, but "that doesn't necessarily get into whether they're legal or not legal," Griffin said.

"And then there are programs where there is no point in checking," such as public schools, he added. "Federal law is quite clear that we're required to educate somebody whether they're legal or not."

Supervisor T. Dana Kauffman (D-Lee), who supports the county's current stance toward illegal immigration, said the new information could be used for what he considered to be a good purpose.

Kauffman predicted that next year's General Assembly will seek to require local governments to block illegal immigrants from obtaining state- or county-funded services. If the county can demonstrate that it is not losing money on such expenditures, perhaps it can convince lawmakers that new rules are not necessary, he said.

© 2007 The Washington Post Company