Loudoun Policy on Illegal Immigrants Questioned

By Bill Brubaker
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, June 26, 2008

The American Civil Liberties Union expressed concern Friday about plans by the Loudoun County Sheriff's Office to check the immigration status of anyone arrested in the county who is suspected of being in the United States illegally.

"We believe these kinds of policies are ill-advised in all circumstances, placing the federal responsibility to implement immigration laws in local hands and leading to hostile relations between local governments and their Latino communities," Kent Willis, executive director of the ACLU's Virginia chapter, said in a statement.

"But where these policies do exist, those in charge must train police officers in non-discriminatory practices, they must put in place an explicit race-neutral protocol for determining when citizenship records will be sought, and they must have recordkeeping systems that compare treatment across racial lines," Willis said.

The ACLU said it has filed a Freedom of Information Act request with the Sheriff's Office, asking for records "pertaining to policies . . . for determining which arrestees will be subject to immigration status checks."

Sheriff's Office spokesman Kraig Troxell said Friday that Loudoun deputies have a general order from the Sheriff's Office not to show bias. He also said three Loudoun deputies have begun participating in federal training "on how this program works."

Loudoun Sheriff Stephen O. Simpson (I) announced plans for the immigration status checks Tuesday, saying he had reached agreement with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement to participate in a program that seeks to deport illegal immigrants convicted of serious felonies. The program is in place in other Northern Virginia jurisdictions.

Simpson said Tuesday that his deputies will not target people based solely on their ethnicity. "Racial profiling has not been condoned in the department. It never has. It never will be," he said.

ICE is seeking to deport only illegal immigrants convicted of certain felonies, including violent crimes, or those who have returned to the United States illegally after being deported, Simpson said.

But Loudoun will use a computerized ICE program to check the residency status of even those charged with minor offenses if there is reason to think they are illegal immigrants. Simpson said people charged with minor offenses must be checked because some might have felony convictions on their records, possibly under different names.

The ICE program, also used in Prince William County, Manassas, Manassas Park and Herndon, will begin in Loudoun this summer, Simpson said.

Willis, in his statement Friday, questioned whether Simpson has a protocol for how law enforcement officers will decide which suspects should be checked. "If he implements this plan without precise -- and probably costly -- procedures to protect against discrimination, then we are concerned that discrimination based on national origin will occur," he said.

Troxell said the three deputies being trained in South Carolina will become "experts" on the program and will work "hand in hand with ICE" to ensure it is being run properly.

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