Board Is Set To Reconsider Immigration Crackdown

By Kristen Mack
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, April 27, 2008

County supervisors are prepared to tweak, and possibly repeal, Prince William's controversial crackdown on illegal immigration. The board is expected to revisit the policy Tuesday before voting on the upcoming year's budget.

Chairman Corey A. Stewart (R-At Large) sent an e-mail to about 2,500 supporters last week urging them to attend Tuesday's 2 p.m. meeting and voice their support to "continue the crackdown."

"I know it may be inconvenient, but please try to attend and ask others to attend as well," his message read.

Stewart said supervisors have received "thousands" of e-mails, running about 10 to 1 in favor of funding the resolution authorizing police officers to check the residency status of criminal suspects.

Just before the October vote on the resolution, Stewart used taxpayer money to mail postcards encouraging residents to attend that meeting. More than 1,200 people showed up at the marathon session, and nearly 400 addressed the board.

This time, Stewart also encouraged supporters to e-mail Supervisor Frank J. Principi (D-Woodbridge), who said he will offer a resolution to rescind police enforcement. Principi was the only supervisor not on the board when it approved tougher immigration enforcement measures, which also deny some county services to illegal immigrants.

Principi will seek to repeal a key part of the county's policy that directs police officers to check the residency status of criminal suspects who they think might be in the country unlawfully. Officers may question anyone suspected of committing a crime, no matter how minor the offense.

Several supervisors have suggested that they are willing to have officers question only the worst criminal offenders.

The policy, which took effect March 3, has increased crowding at the county jail and prompted a request from the police for video cameras in patrol cars to protect officers from accusations of racial profiling.

Principi's concern about overly harsh enforcement was prompted by a unanimous board vote last week to remove the $3.1 million for cameras from $6.9 million budgeted to cover costs of the crackdown next year. Supervisors cut an additional $1.2 million in related police, foster care and child protective services for the children of deported illegal immigrants.

Some supervisors said they want to wait until County Attorney Ross G. Horton offers recommendations on how to carry out the policy without cameras in patrol cars.

"We need to review the policies necessary to make sure we don't get caught in a Catch-22," Supervisor John D. Jenkins (D-Neabsco) said. "We may need to change the current policy. But I don't want to rescind the resolution."

Stewart said that he's open to suggestions but that "if the policy's working, we should leave well enough alone."

Supervisors cut the proposed fiscal 2009 budget of $913 million by $6.7 million. That brings the property tax rate to about 97 cents per $100 of assessed valuation, amounting to a 5 percent increase in tax bill of the average homeowner.

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