By Kristen Mack
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, September 18, 2008
Robert L. Duecaster, who is secretary of Help Save Manassas and helped craft Prince William County's illegal immigration crackdown, was appointed to a strategic goals task force Tuesday, over the opposition of some members of the Board of County Supervisors and residents.
Supervisors rarely question appointments by their colleagues. Yet on Tuesday, they discussed Duecaster's nomination by Supervisor John T. Stirrup Jr. (R-Gainesville) in closed session before publicly voting. Chairman Corey A. Stewart (R-At Large) said he didn't think it was right to have a closed session. But some supervisors wanted to review taped statements Duecaster previously made before voting.
Board and commission appointments usually take place with little comment, but several people spoke against Duecaster's nomination.
Each supervisor appoints a resident of his or her district to serve on one of four strategic goals task forces: education, human services, public safety, and economic development and transportation. Duecaster was nominated to serve on the human services task force.
Prince William's strategic goals will guide policy and budget decisions for the next four years. The task forces are charged with "composing the community outcomes and strategies" for each goal, according to the resolution the board adopted.
Elena Schlossberg-Kunkel, an opponent of illegal immigration enforcement, said Duecaster's appointment to a task force that affects the most at-risk county residents was troublesome.
"My concern is that he promotes an extremist agenda and that it will be codified in public policy. What more dangerous place to make someone mainstream than public policy for the entire county?" she said, adding that his contribution may "shut down any real productive work that might happen on this committee."
Duecaster, who has frequently shown up to citizens' time at supervisors meetings to speak in favor of cracking down on illegal immigration, has made controversial comments.
"This issue is really not about immigration or illegality or legality. It's not about economics. I'm going to tell you right now what it's about. It's about an invasion of this country," he said during October's board meeting, at which supervisors passed the initial policy.
"This country is being invaded no less than if hordes of armed people were coming across its border. This invasion is not armed, but they've got weapons. The weapons they use are their anchor babies."
On Tuesday, he arrived during the closed session. Although he drafted the policy, Duecaster, a lawyer, said he doesn't take credit for it.
"I welcome criticism and free speech. I don't hold any animosity against anyone who's spoken against my appointment," he said in an interview.
"At the time the comments were made, we were living in a threatening and inflammatory environment," he said of his previous remarks before the board. Now he wants to move forward, he said, and serve "the interest of legal residents of this county."
Greg Letiecq, president of Help Save Manassas, defended Duecaster's appointment.
"He's shown that he can help draft legally viable public policy where so many others have failed," he said, pointing out that other jurisdictions have been sued for trying to implement similar measures. "He provided excellent quality assurance on the rule of law resolution."
Help Save Manassas advocated for the policy, which initially ordered officers to check legal status whenever there was probable cause to believe a suspect was in the country illegally. Supervisors later revised the policy because of fears of racial profiling, and now the name of everyone arrested is run through a federal database to determine residency status, even if the person is not suspected of being in the country illegally.
Letiecq said supervisors should be able to use their discretion when making appointments.
"It's not like any of these commissions have the ability to establish policy," Letiecq said. "They recommend policy, and it is either adopted or ignored."
Human services are vulnerable to cuts and will probably be reduced, according to the adopted goals. The county might consider charging for some services it provides. It also will continue to search for public-private partnerships and determine whether the services it provides are worth the investment.
"We aren't going to be expanding any aspect of county government this year due to budget constraints," Stewart said before the board adopted the stated strategic goals Tuesday. "We are probably going to have to contract every area of government this year."
The board received a reminder of the budget chokehold last week. Supervisors had to cut the budget by $1.02 million, because of a reduction in revenue from the state. The police department took the largest hit, nearly $456,000, by eliminating four vacant officer positions and one civilian job.