Pr. William May Revisit Immigrant Policy

By Kristen Mack
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, April 24, 2008

A Prince William County supervisor said yesterday that he will seek to repeal a key part of the county's illegal immigration policy that directs police officers to check the citizenship or immigration status of criminal suspects they believe might be in the country unlawfully.

Frank J. Principi (D-Woodbridge), the only supervisor who was not on the board when it approved the crackdown in October, said he will offer a resolution Tuesday to rescind police enforcement.

It is the first time that a county board member has challenged the underpinning of the crackdown, which in addition to increasing law enforcement denies certain services to illegal immigrants. The policy, which took effect March 3, has led to crowding at the county jail and a request from the police for video cameras in patrol cars to protect officers from accusations of racial profiling.

Principi's concern was prompted by a unanimous board vote Tuesday night to slash $3.1 million from the 2009 budget for enforcement of the policy, including the video cameras.

"If we turn off the budget spigot, we'll need to revisit the policy as well," Principi said.

Chairman Corey A. Stewart (R-At Large), one of the architects of the crackdown who recommended trimming cameras out of the budget, said the board does not need to reconsider the policy.

But Principi said the policy has had "significant unintended consequences" such as the cost of housing illegal immigrants at the Prince William jail. Crowding at the jail had hit an all-time high because federal immigration officials were taking weeks, not the agreed-upon 72 hours, to pick up suspected illegal immigrants.

During the first month of the policy, 41 illegal immigrants were arrested. Police Chief Charlie T. Deane said most of the people arrested would have gone to jail anyway. All but two were charged with misdemeanors and felonies unrelated to their immigration status.

Principi is asking why the police need to check a person's citizenship status on the street when it would be checked automatically once the person is brought to the jail under a federal policy that went into effect in the summer. Under a partnership with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), jurisdictions can deputize local law enforcement to assist federal authorities in processing illegal immigrants.

"It goes to heart of whether we should have police enforcement in the field and on the street," Principi said. "There are three reasons why we don't need the resolution Corey Stewart shoved down our throats: We can't afford it. We can't rely on ICE to pick up those we do arrest. We lack capacity on the board as an oversight group. Why are we self-inflicting this wound in a [budget] deficit situation?"

Principi said he believes a majority of the board members are willing to discuss the future of the illegal immigration policy. Some supervisors said they want to wait until the county staff offers recommendations on how to carry out the policy without cameras in patrol cars.

Stewart said the board does not need to rethink police enforcement of the crackdown.

"We are not going to revisit the policy," he said. "No significant changes will be made. There will be no impact on the numbers of illegal immigrants arrested, brought to the jail or handed over to federal authorities."

Even though the entire board supported doing away with the cameras, some supervisors remain torn. Supervisor Martin E. Nohe (R-Coles) said he is not comfortable putting police officers on the street without video cameras to create visual evidence and shield officers from complaints of racial profiling.

"It's a big-ticket item none of us thought we were talking about in October," he said. "We have to see if there is a cheaper way to do this."

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