Va. Jails to Report Foreign Inmates

By Bill Brubaker
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, July 28, 2008

A year after Prince William County launched a crackdown on illegal immigrants, Virginia has implemented a law that requires something similar for every jurisdiction in the state. Jail officials are now required to notify federal authorities of all foreign-born inmates regardless of their immigration status.

The little-noticed law went into effect July 1 and aims to make every corner of the state as unwelcoming as Prince William for illegal immigrants charged with crimes.

"With our new law, these people who are here illegally should be afraid of living anywhere in Virginia right now," said Del. David B. Albo (R-Fairfax), who helped write the law and chairs the state's crime commission. "If you're here illegally, it's not any scarier to live in Prince William than in any other county."

Prince William and about 60 other jurisdictions nationwide had previously joined in a separate partnership with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials to identify immigrants who have committed crimes. But now, under the Virginia law, officials across the state have begun routinely filing similar reports to the same federal authorities that Prince William does. Under the state law, local jails probably will spend a fraction of the $10.5 million Prince Willliam has budgeted over the next five years for the ICE partnership.

ICE cannot say how many illegal immigrants from a particular jurisdiction are being deported, only that it cannot remove as many as it would like because of budget limitations. So there are no statistics about what ultimately happens to the illegal immigrants who are reported to ICE -- either by way of the new state law or through the federal program, which trains local officers to identify and detain undocumented suspects charged with crimes.

ICE has $42 million for the partnership program this year, but officials at the agency say they need a lot more money to do the job. "We'd like to detain everyone. But that is a fantasy world," said James Pendergraph, who oversees ICE's partnerships with state and local agencies.

Together, the federal program and the state law, passed in the aftermath of Congress's failure last summer to reform the immigration system, underscore how dissimilar enforcement policies are in the Washington region.

While Virginia jails have begun expediting reports to ICE on their foreign-born inmates, even if there is no evidence that they are undocumented, the Montgomery County jail sends federal authorities a weekly list of its immigrant inmates.

"We do no investigation for ICE," said Montgomery Department of Correction and Rehabilitation Director Arthur M. Wallenstein. "We are not agents of the ICE. We are a local branch of government."

And while Prince William's police and sheriff's departments will spend about $1.5 million this fiscal year to employ 16 ICE-trained officers and deputies for the program known as 287(g), Alexandria and Arlington County are leaving most of the immigration work to the federal agency.

"It's a federal responsibility," Arlington Sheriff Beth Arthur said. "I mean, in essence what is happening is, these 287(g) localities are taking on the responsibility of ICE, doing its job. And these localities are paying for it." The 287(g) program got its name from the section of the federal Immigration and Nationality Act that authorized it.

But Prince William officials are confident that they will identify more illegal immigrants through their partnership with ICE than they would under the state law.

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