Few Arrestees Are Found To Be Illegal Immigrants

By Kristen Mack
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Fewer than 2 percent of people charged with crimes in Prince William County since the well-publicized crackdown on illegal immigration began in March have turned out to be undocumented, Police Chief Charlie T. Deane told county supervisors yesterday.

Deane provided a status report on the first six months of the county's illegal immigration enforcement program, which generated nationwide attention. He told the supervisors that police questioned 626 illegal immigrants in all. Of those questioned, 341 were arrested, 196 were released with no charges and 89 were charged and released on summonses. Ten others were determined to be in the country legally.

"I'd expect those numbers to go up as officers get more comfortable with the policy," Deane said.

Separately, the supervisors released a citizen survey on the policy. About 60 percent of residents are satisfied with how police are carrying out the illegal immigration policy, according to the county's annual citizen satisfaction survey. Fourteen percent of those surveyed are dissatisfied; 7 percent oppose the policy, and 17 percent provided no opinion.

Satisfaction with the overall performance of the department decreased since last year, from 92 percent to 89 percent.

"It is disappointing," Deane said. "But I'm confident police and county staff can make the best of the mandate we have in the best interest of the community."

Opinions about the police have become polarized along ethnic lines, with Hispanic residents much less satisfied than others, said Thomas M. Guterbock, the survey director.

For example, 97 percent of Hispanics were satisfied with police in 2005. This year, Hispanic satisfaction with police has decreased to 73 percent.

"This is fairly disturbing," Guterbock said, noting that the department has had high ratings in the past regardless of race and ethnicity. Guterbock said the ratings appear to have decreased because of the immigration enforcement.

Deane's presentation to supervisors was the first comprehensive review of the illegal immigration enforcement, which has undergone three changes in the past six months.

The initial policy ordered officers to check the legal status of all suspects, no matter how minor the offense, if there was probable cause to think the person was in the country unlawfully.

Supervisors changed the policy in April after concerns were raised that it left the police department open to charges of racial profiling. Deane suspended the probable-cause standard the day after the board's vote.

Since July, the name of everyone arrested in Prince William has been run through a federal database to determine citizenship status, even if the person is not suspected of being in the country illegally.

Chairman Corey A. Stewart noted that more illegal immigrants were identified under the new policy.

"It demonstrates the exodus of illegal immigrant criminals leaving the county," Stewart said of the small percentage of undocumented immigrants arrested under the policy. "We can't expect miracles. The illegal immigration resolution is not a panacea for all of our problems."

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