By Jennifer Buske
Washington Post staff writer
Friday, June 18, 2010; B04
The chairman of the Prince William Board of County Supervisors is calling on Virginia legislators to pass a law cracking down on illegal immigration similar to a controversial Arizona measure.
Board Chairman Corey A. Stewart (R-At Large) said he will spend the rest of the year lobbying the General Assembly to pass legislation that enhances law enforcement powers to capture, detain and deport illegal aliens; curbs illegal day laboring; and creates specific state penalties for illegal immigrants. He called the effort the "Virginia Rule of Law Campaign."
Prince William has received national attention for its own crackdown on illegal immigration. The county's law, which was enacted in 2007 and modified in 2008, requires that police officers inquire into the immigration status of all people who are arrested on suspicion of violating a state or local law.
The Arizona law, signed in April, gives police wide latitude to check the residency status of anyone who they have "reasonable suspicion" is an illegal immigrant.
"We need to bring the rule of law to all of Virginia," Stewart said. "As long as the federal government shows no interest in securing the border and no interest in internal enforcement to promote self-deportation, then states and localities will have to pick up the slack."
Nancy Lyall of the immigrant advocacy group Mexicans Without Borders called the proposal "irresponsible."
Lyall said that there is a need for immigration reform but that it should be left up to the federal government, not the state. "This type of legislation targeting people who have been a productive part of society for most of their lives is just unheard of and unjust," Lyall said.
Stewart said that he is working on a final draft but that he wants the legislation to direct Virginia law enforcement officials to determine, in any lawful contact, the legal status of an individual. Another key point of the bill, he said, would be to prohibit jurisdictions from calling themselves sanctuaries for illegal immigrants.
Stewart said his proposal would go further than what Prince William did in 2007. He said the county's law was a success -- that illegal immigrants fled and that overall crime dropped to a 15-year low in 2009.
But Lyall said the immigration law in Prince William hurt the county, damaging the relationship between police and some members of the community, draining county funds and hurting businesses as people fled the area.
The county's 2009 crime report said that of the roughly 2,000 people arrested last year in connection with major crimes, 121 were determined to be illegal immigrants. Of the 12,254 people arrested for other offenses, including drunken driving, prostitution and fraud, 774 lacked legal status. A more comprehensive illegal immigration report on the county's efforts is due out this year.