Manassas Police to Screen for Immigration Status

By Nick Miroff
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, February 28, 2008

Manassas police will soon begin ratcheting up immigration enforcement in the city, after council members voted unanimously Monday night to hire three police officers and provide seven others with training in federal immigration laws.

Under a new agreement with the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), city officers will be able to screen offenders and initiate deportation proceedings against illegal immigrants suspected of committing certain crimes. A broad range of offenses would trigger the immigration checks, ranging from serious offenses, such as robbery and assault, to minor crimes, such as gambling, vandalism and shoplifting.

Before the vote, Mayor Douglas S. Waldron (R) spoke out against illegal immigrants who commit crimes in the community. "They are not welcome," he said.

The federal program, known as 287(g), streamlines cooperation with ICE by providing local law enforcement officials with training in immigration procedures. The program has been implemented by Prince William County police, and by jail officials at the county's Adult Detention Center, which is shared with the city.

Since the program was implemented by jail officials in July, it has initiated deportation proceedings against 567 suspects, including 237 who were transferred into directly into ICE custody, Manassas police Maj. Don McKinnon said. He said the large volume was the result of a "tremendous change" in procedure because of 287(g).

"Previously, absent an ICE detainer, if the person completed their sentence, they would be released back into society," he said. "Now, offenders are moving from serving their time straight to deportation, without release in the interim."

The city will spend about $410,000 in the first year to hire and train three new officers, then $175,000 per year after that, McKinnon said. ICE covers the cost of the course.

One city officer has nearly completed training and probably will be deployed in the next month, McKinnon said. The remaining six will be phased through the program as space becomes available, he said, cautioning that it may take up to two years for all seven officers to be trained.

Although the Manassas program does not go as far as Prince William County, which requires checks on any suspect who police believe may be in the country illegally, McKinnon predicted it will be equally as successful at capturing illegal immigrants. "By and large, I think it'll be substantially similar," he said.

Opponents of the council's decision said the training was not needed for city police because jail officials screen for immigration status.

"This is a way to intimidate people on the streets," said Nancy Lyall of the advocacy group Mexicans Without Borders.

Lyall said the city was "asking for trouble" because the program will encourage immigrants to leave the city. "It will hurt economically," she said.

But council members presented their vote as a direct response to pressure from city residents. "I think we're working in the right direction," said Vice Mayor Harry J. "Hal" Parrish (R).

Waldron added: "We've worked a long time on this. I'd attribute it 100 percent to citizens."

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