Crackdown Will Face Hurdles, Report Says

By Kristen Mack
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Prince William County's plan to deny some services to illegal immigrants faces limitations and bureaucratic challenges, according to a report released yesterday.

The report by the county staff to the Board of County Supervisors was the first look at how the county will implement the plan that was approved in October by the board to curb certain services to undocumented immigrants, including substance-abuse counseling, homeless assistance and programs for the elderly.

Few residents use some of those services, the report said, and the county cannot restrict other services because the state won't allow it. In addition, the report said, the board's action could inconvenience thousands of legal Prince William residents.

For example, county officials would have to determine the legal status of more than 3,000 elderly and disabled residents who might be eligible for real-estate tax relief, a labor-intensive process. And nearly 13,000 business owners would have to appear in person at county offices to provide proof of legal status in the first year of the anti-immigration program, the report said. The plan is scheduled to start July 1.

It is not clear how much money the county will save by denying some services. But the plan will cost $3.3 million to implement, nearly $2 million of which will go to the police department, about $1 million to the adult detention center and $500,000 towards social services.

Supervisor John T. Stirrup Jr. (R-Gainesville) said he did not view the report's findings as a setback. "While we may be procedurally limited, the board remains committed to significantly reducing the number of illegal immigrants in the county," he said.

According to the report, only six Prince William residents use a program that allows elderly people to remain at home and receive help with light housekeeping and meal preparation. No one knows whether any of the clients are illegal immigrants, because the county does not ask.

Supervisor Martin E. Nohe (R-Coles) said yesterday he might want to revisit the plan to limit business license applications. County businesses grossing more than $100,000 in sales are required to obtain a license. Nearly 13,000 licenses are issued and renewed annually by mail. To ensure no illegal immigrants have licenses, all business owners would have to appear in person to provide proof of legal status during the first year.

"I would prefer we go in another direction," Nohe said. "We don't have any early indication of illegal aliens applying for business licenses. We are giving people one more reason to take their business elsewhere."

Next month, the county will begin designing a training course for staff on how to identify documents that will be accepted as proof of legal status. Staff will begin training this spring as county residents are informed of new requirements.

"We obviously have a job to do educating the public," Assistant County Executive Melissa S. Peacor said.

Board Chairman Corey A. Stewart (R) characterized the limitations as minor. "The part that will have the most practical impact in removing illegal immigrants from the county is the police portion, and that is intact," he said.

Supervisors voted in October to increase police enforcement of immigration laws, allowing officers to check the immigration status of anyone suspected of breaking the law, no matter how minor the crime.

Next month the board will begin discussing where illegal immigration falls among its funding priorities as it attempts to close a projected $51 million budget shortfall. Following the board's budget guidelines, the county will prepare a budget that does not cover the illegal immigration measures. No final decisions have been made.

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