By Kristen Mack
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, November 14, 2007
RICHMOND, Nov. 13 -- The Virginia Crime Commission called on the General Assembly on Tuesday to ask Gov. Timothy M. Kaine (D) to require state troopers to help federal authorities detain and deport illegal immigrants.
The commission's recommendation, one of a series of actions it took Tuesday related to illegal immigration, will put pressure on Kaine and the newly elected Senate Democratic majority to take up an issue that split state lawmakers during the fall campaign and caused local governments such as Prince William County's to enact their own measures.
According to a recent Washington Post poll, an overwhelming majority of Virginians want the state and local governments to do more about illegal immigration. Eight in 10 state residents said they would support a measure requiring local police to check the immigration status of people they suspect of a crime and think may be undocumented.
Prince William County police officers soon will check the immigration status of anyone suspected of breaking the law, whether for speeding or shoplifting, if they believe that person is in the country illegally.
The 13-member Crime Commission, which is dominated by Republicans, was more guarded, recommending that state police limit their checks of immigration status to people suspected of committing violent, drug-related or gang-related crimes.
"Everybody who is arrested for being drunk in public, there's not enough money in the federal government to put a detainer on that person, pay for a place to stay and then deport them. Practically, that's not possible," said Del. David B. Albo (R-Fairfax), chairman of the commission, a criminal justice agency that advises lawmakers on public safety issues. "We are looking to create a system by which the people who are arrested for certain crimes are guaranteed to be deported."
Some of the panel's less controversial recommendations will probably win support, such as automatically denying bail to illegal immigrants who commit crimes unless they can prove they are not flight risks. The commission also wants the legislature to require all regions of the state to form anti-gang task forces.
The commission acknowledged that Kaine and the Democrats will probably reject the state police proposal, as they have in the past, because they believe immigration is a matter for the federal government.
"I expect the governor will reject it," said Albo, who helped the GOP make illegal immigration a campaign issue this fall. "He has consistently said he does not want to give [that] authority to state police."
Kaine's position has not changed, said Gordon Hickey, the governor's press secretary. "His position has been clear: The commonwealth is doing all it can," Hickey said Tuesday. "It is not the commonwealth's job to pick up the slack for the federal government."
The commission approved 16 immigration-related recommendations for lawmakers, who return in January.
Other recommendations include requiring databases about inmates to include immigration status, calling on state corrections officials to verify Social Security numbers and asking law enforcement officials to check inmates' names against certain federal databases.
Last month, a commission task force on immigration rejected its most controversial proposal -- to build a 1,000-bed detention center where illegal immigrants arrested for certain crimes could be held until federal officials deport them. Instead, the commission voted to ask lawmakers to give more money to localities to house arrested illegal immigrants and to build or expand jails.
Localities would be allowed to keep all of the money the federal government sends them to house federal inmates, including arrested illegal immigrants, instead of giving a share to the state. Sheriffs also would receive 50 percent, rather than 25 percent, of the cost of expanding or building jails.
Claire Guthrie Gasta¿aga, who represents the Virginia Alliance for Sensible Community Policing Efforts, said she was disappointed that the crime commission did not accept recommendations that would protect witnesses and victims of crime from checks of citizenship status. She also encouraged the commission to ensure that data are kept on people who are arrested to determine whether racial profiling is taking place. Otherwise, she said she was pleased with the outcome.
"It's very important to underscore that they did not recommend anything today that would authorize local law enforcement officers to become immigration officers," she said. "Their recommendations were carefully restricted to post-arrest and people who are incarcerated."
The commission formed a 22-member immigration task force after lawmakers said they were confused about their role with regard to illegal immigration.
More than 50 bills dealing with illegal immigration were proposed during the last legislative session. Only seven made it to Kaine's desk for his signature. Many of the bills died in the Senate, which was controlled by a group of moderate Republicans who often collaborate with Democrats.
Now that Democrats have the majority in the Senate, Republicans' hopes that the recommendations will become law have been further dampened.
"This is a recommendation that will probably never materialize," Sen. Kenneth W. Stolle (R-Virginia Beach) said of the plan to check the status of people involved in major crimes.
According to the Post poll, Republicans in Virginia are nearly 20 percentage points more likely than Democrats to want their local police to check suspects' immigration status, even if fewer illegal immigrants would cooperate with investigations and report crimes.
House Republican leaders have said they will still introduce anti-illegal-immigration bills in the GOP-led chamber, including measures that would prohibit illegal immigrants from attending public colleges and suspend the business licenses of companies that hire illegal immigrants.
A new Virginia Commission on Immigration, which is scheduled to meet this week, will advise Kaine and the General Assembly on what, if any, state policies should be adopted to address illegal immigration. The crime commission referred civil matters to the group to consider, including creating verification cards to prove identity and requiring documentation to receive certain benefits.
Polling director Jon Cohen contributed to this report.