Manassas to Check Arrestees' Immigration Status

By Jennifer Buske
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, November 2, 2008

A new immigration policy will take effect in Manassas next month as officials try to curb the number of illegal immigrants who commit crimes in the community.

Beginning Dec. 1, Manassas police will check the immigration status of anyone arrested in the city, Manassas Police Chief John J. Skinner told the City Council on Monday. The new "Immigration Enforcement General Order" policy is in line with Prince William County's plan and will be applicable to all sworn officers.

"Some of us are supportive of a very aggressive stance on illegal alien control and have been pushing for a long time to do whatever is realistic," Manassas City Council member Jonathan L. Way (R) said. "Some ideas that have come out go a little too far, but in my opinion, what the chief has done and what [Prince William] Chief [Charlie T.] Deane has done is balance two conflicting pressures: protect the constitutional rights of citizens but have an effective policy."

Skinner has spent several months crafting the policy, which has been approved by the city attorney's office.

This is the city's fourth initiative meant to tackle illegal immigration, he said. The city joined the Northern Virginia Regional Gang Task Force three years ago and signed a memorandum of agreement with the Prince William-Manassas Regional Adult Detention Center last year to work together on immigration enforcement. In March, the city also signed an agreement with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

"With our four efforts, we are among those communities with the most stringent policies in place," Skinner said. "But our response to illegal immigration needs to be carefully integrated into our mission and is not intended to alter our mission," which is to enforce state and local laws.

Under the ICE agreement, participating jurisdictions can deputize local law enforcement officials to receive training and assist ICE in processing illegal immigrants.

Manassas had trained two officers with ICE, but because of budget cuts, those positions were eliminated, Skinner said. The two trained officers instead became patrol officers, filling positions that opened through attrition.

Cutting those positions saved the city $130,000 in fiscal 2009 and, through the attrition, will save an additional $100,000 next year, according to officials in the city's finance department.

Under the new policy, all police officers will check into the immigration status of any person who is under custodial arrest for a violation of a state or local law, Skinner said.

If someone arrested is found to be in the country illegally, police will notify the jail during booking, Skinner said. An 11-member ICE team at the regional facility will then take over.

Under the policy, police officers may also "inquire" into the citizenship status of any individual who is "lawfully detained" for a violation of a city or state law, Skinner said, noting applicable situations could include people who speed, shoplift or are involved in an auto accident.

Officers can inquire only if there is "probable cause" that the individual is in the United States illegally and if it does not extend the duration of the detention, Skinner said. They will not conduct routine immigration checkpoints or arrest people solely for being in the country illegally, he said, and racial profiling will not be allowed.

Victims and potential witnesses will not be subjected to immigration inquiries as a matter of routine, he said.

"The police department is committed to enforcing immigration violations within the boundaries of its authorities," Skinner said. "Federal immigration law is extremely complex and is primarily a federal function and responsibility."

The new Manassas policy is in line with Prince William's newly revised plan, Skinner said. Last October, the Prince William Board of County Supervisors ordered officers to check legal status when there was probable cause to believe a suspect was in the country illegally. Supervisors, however, revised the policy because of fears of racial profiling.

Since July, the name of everyone arrested in the county has been run through a federal database to determine residency status.

"It is enormously sensible to make sure the policies are harmonized across all the jurisdictions that share services," said Greg Letiecq, the leader of Help Save Manassas, an anti-illegal immigrant group. "This is a good, smart public policy."

Although Letiecq is in favor of both the city and the county's actions, Nancy Lyall of the immigrant advocacy group Mexicans Without Borders, said this policy is just another action that will cause people to flee the area.

"This is an unnecessary policy that costs the taxpayers a lot of money and could drive people out of the city," Lyall said. "It seems ridiculous in these difficult economic times. I just think this is legislation that is unnecessary."

Skinner said he is in the midst of training about 110 police department personnel to make sure every staff member is aware of what they may and may not do under the policy.

He said he is also making an effort to alert the community. Brochures in Spanish and English are available at the department, and a hotline, 703-257-8488, is in place for anyone with questions.

Skinner said that before the policy takes effect, he will also brief organizations including Help Save Manassas and Unity in the Community, which works to promote cross-cultural understanding.

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