Delegate files immigration bill

By Jennifer Buske
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, January 16, 2011; T01

A Prince William County delegate has embraced County Board of Supervisors Chairman Corey A. Stewart's push to tighten Virginia immigration laws.

Stewart (R-At Large) said Thursday that Del. L. Scott Lingamfelter (R-Prince William) has filed a bill that would crack down on illegal immigration in Virginia, modeled on the county's law.

The bill would require law enforcement officials to inquire into the immigration status of everyone arrested, whether or not they are taken into custody. Under current Virginia law, sheriffs inquire into a person's legal status when he or she is taken into custody at a jail.

The bill, which had not been scheduled to be heard as of Friday, also states that when a warrantless arrest is made and the officer "finds probable cause to believe" that the person is in the United States illegally, he must tell a judicial officer. If the judicial officer concurs and thinks that person is not likely to show up for a trial or a hearing, the judicial officer may refuse bail.

"The strength of this policy is that it mandates the status check and establishes a bright line for Virginia law enforcement, avoiding racial profiling accusations," Stewart said. "I'm very appreciative to Delegate Lingamfelter for carrying this legislation."

Lingamfelter did not return calls seeking comment.

For the past several months, Stewart has been traveling the commonwealth, trying to drum up support for a statewide immigration policy, in what he has dubbed the Virginia Rule of Law Campaign. His most recent stop was Wednesday night at an Alexandria tea party event. The Republican, who has toyed with running for a U.S. Senate seat in 2012, spoke to about 30 tea party activists about his campaign.

The campaign, launched in June, once focused on pushing Virginia to create an immigration policy similar to Arizona's, which gives police wide latitude to check the residency status of anyone who they have "reasonable suspicion" is an illegal immigrant. But Stewart has since changed his focus and instead is pushing for legislation that would require all localities in Virginia to adopt an immigration policy similar to that of Prince William, which requires police officers to check the immigration status of anyone arrested on suspicion of violating a state or local law.

In November, county supervisors also approved a policy statement as part of their legislative agenda that said other localities should adopt an immigration policy similar to Prince William's. Supervisors Martin E. Nohe (R-Coles) and Frank J. Principi (D-Woodbridge) voted against the policy statement, questioning whether the board was essentially requiring jurisdictions to adopt what they deemed an unfunded mandate.

Stewart said he is lobbying for the state to adopt Prince William's policy instead of Arizona's because it has been tested in court and found to be legal. He also said it has proven to be successful.

A recent study produced by the University of Virginia's Center for Survey Research shows the policy has had some effect, as the growth of the county's Hispanic population now lags behind that of other jurisdictions. Researchers said that the policy did not affect most types of crime but that there was a significant drop in aggravated assaults and hit-and-run accidents that could be attributed, in part, to the policy.

Although the fate of Lingamfelter's bill won't be known for some time, Stewart said it is still "a good first step" to fighting illegal immigration in the commonwealth.

"By building an effective team with the General Assembly," Stewart said, "we have the very real possibility to see the success we have achieved here in Prince William shared across the state."

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