By Rosalind Helderman
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, October 8, 2010; 8:12 PM
Federal immigration officials announced Friday that they arrested and initiated deportation proceedings this week against 15 illegal immigrants who had been convicted of sex crimes and were living in Virginia and the District.
They also identified 356 other foreign nationals currently incarcerated in federal, state or local correctional facilities who will be deported at the conclusion of their sentences, the director of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement announced at a Richmond news conference.
ICE Director John Morton was joined by Virginia Gov. Robert F. McDonnell (R) and Attorney Gen. Ken Cuccinelli II (R), who praised the operation as an example of effective state and federal coordination on illegal immigration.
Officials said federal regulations barred them from releasing the names of those arrested. However, they said they came from seven countries. _blankThirteen had been living in Virginia and two in the District.
They included a 40-year-old Salvadoran who had been convicted of two counts of sexual battery of a minor and was arrested in Henrico County, Va. Another was a 31-year-old Salvadoran, arrested in Reston, who had failed to register as a sex offender, as required by law. The man had been convicted of having carnal knowledge of a child between 13 and 15 years old.
"Sex offenders are simply a scourge, and they deserve our full law enforcement attention," Morton said.
McDonnell and Cuccinelli acknowledged that they have been critical of the Obama administration's immigration policies. But they praised ICE for stepped-up efforts to identify and deport illegal immigrants convicted of crimes.
"On what they've done in the last year, they've been outstanding," said McDonnell, noting that the Obama administration has initiated deportation proceedings this year against more illegal immigrants than in any previous year. "These partnerships ... have been terrific."
McDonnell said the fact that the program identified only 15 such individuals who had been released from correctional facilities into their communities suggested that the state and federal governments are doing a better job of finding illegal immigrants in jails and prisons.
In August, McDonnell formally requested federal approval to give Virginia state troopers broader powers to enforce immigration law. Twenty-six states and eight Virginia localities have so-called 287(g) agreements that deputize local law enforcement officers to act as ICE agents, but the Obama administration has declined to issue the authority in some areas.
On Friday, Morton confirmed that McDonnell's request has been received, but he provided no new information about whether it might be granted.
"We have it. We received it, and it's being reviewed. Beyond that, I don't have anything to add," he said.
Morton also said that a recent vote by the Arlington County Board to opt out of a program that uses fingerprints collected by local law enforcement officers to help identify illegal immigrants would have no impact on the program in Virginia.
"Our agreement is with the state," Morton said. "It is a federal enforcement effort. No one in the Department of Corrections, no one in Arlington County, no one in the other jurisdictions of Virginia is being asked to enforce immigration law. Federal immigration officers - ICE officers - are enforcing the law."
He also defended _blankthe Secure Communities program as an effort that is "transforming the face of immigration enforcement" and that rightly focuses energy on finding illegal immigrants who have committed other crimes.
Cuccinelli added that the coordination between local officials who make arrests and federal officials responsible for enforcing immigration laws "truly has been seamless. ... I cannot overemphasize just in the first few months how well the Secure Communities has worked."