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Immigration: Prince William County

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Corey A. Stewart
Chairman, Prince William County Board of Supervisors
Thursday, October 18, 2007; 3:30 PM

Within months, traffic stops in Prince William County may carry serious consequences for thousands of residents, as police officers begin checking the immigration status of anyone who breaks the law, whether for speeding or shoplifting, if they believe that person is in the country illegally.

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With their unanimous vote early yesterday, the county supervisors also cut off certain services to illegal immigrants who are homeless, elderly or addicted to drugs. A similar debate is playing out in communities across the country, where an increasing number of jurisdictions have been taking steps to clamp down on illegal immigrants after Congress failed to pass immigration overhaul measures.

Corey A. Stewart, chairman of the Prince William County Board of Supervisors, will be online Thursday, Oct. 18, at 3:30 p.m. ET to discuss the board's decision.

A transcript follows.

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Wheaton, Md.: Bravo to your community. I only hope Montgomery County, Md., follows your lead and stops draining taxpayer's dollars for lawbreakers.

Keep up the good work!

Corey A. Stewart: Thank you.

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Woodbridge, Va.: For months, we've been told that illegals are somehow acting as a financial drain on us -- they use up services that cost us all money. Now, according to the Post (Jump in Tax Rate Looms as Home Values Plunge, 14 Oct 07, PW01) you're working to raise our tax rates an average of $257 extra, partly to pay for the PWPD's illegal crackdown and to defray lawsuits. So it looks to me that it isn't illegals that are costing me, but rather the crackdown. Do you think that's fair? I don't normally vote for Republicans, but you promised lower taxes, and now you've reneged. Guess I learned my lesson!

Corey A. Stewart: For the first time in several years, we've been able to keep average Prince William resident tax bills flat. I do not anticipate a significant increase in average tax bills next year either. Nearly all communities in the U.S. are now facing fiscal challenges, and Prince William is no exception. The cost of our crackdown on illegal immigration will not significantly affect that situation.

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Alexandria, Va.: First of all, my family came here from Afghanistan in 1981...LEGALLY. I am very passionate about immigration. If it is done under the rule of law, welcome. I'm very happy that PW County is looking out for the residents who are paying taxes.

My question is, why did this take so long to become an issue?

Corey A. Stewart: That is a good question. As soon as I was elected Chairman last fall, the Baord initiated the 287(g) program in our jail to allow us to intiate deportations of illegal immigrants who are arrested. That program is now working successfully and we have identified 150 inmates who are illegal aliens -- and we have just started. I hope that other localities follow our lead on this.

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Clarendon, Va: Hello Mr Stewart,

If I'm stopped by a cop in Prince William Co, how can I prove that I'm not an illegal alien?

A valid drivers license doesn't count as proof. You can get one while on a temporary visa and then keep renewing after the visa has expired.

Do I need to carry my UK passport with its valid visa when I visit Prince William?

Corey A. Stewart: No. Our police will be trained to do this properly over the next several weeks. If you are legally resident in the United States, you have nothing to worry about.

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Loudoun County, Va.: I've just completed a study that shows crime, per capita, has actually gone down in areas that have the largest immigrant populations -- both legal and illegal --in the last five years. Eight of 10 these cities saw significant decreases in crime, especially violent crime. One city experienced a big increase in violent crime, Houston, but that crime was directly the result of influx of native-born criminals, namely criminals who fled New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina. What empirical evidence does Prince William County have that illegal aliens are the cause of increased crime, welfare dependency, or any of the other ills you and your fellow commissioners are so willing to blame them for?

Corey A. Stewart: Fully 21% of our jail population are illegal aliens. Up to 1/3 of gang members in Northern Virginia are illegal aliens. It is my responsibility as a public official to protect the lives and property of County residents.

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Woodbridge, Va.: Does that mean the $257/tax bill figure is incorrect?

Corey A. Stewart: I am not sure where that figure comes from.

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Woodbridge, Va.: Mr. Stewart,

As a resident of Prince William County I am extraordinarily displeased and ashamed of your "leadership" in regards to the issue of immigration. You have mounted a campaign based on fear and alienation. You have also displayed your ignorance on the matter on several occasions -- the most notable the misuse of the Constitution. I believe you were using a section that related to transportation, not immigration. Given the fact that your hate tactics have only caused greater tension within the county, do you plan to offer any useful solutions through the remainder of your term?

Corey A. Stewart: You have a right to your opinion. But yes, I am and will continue to reach into the Latino community to assure them that this resolution is aimed at illegal immigrants only -- not Latinos or legal residents.

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Manassas, Va.: How much has this brouhaha cost the taxpayers to date in terms of staff time which could have been spent on other projects? Projected legal fees to defend us in court? What has the Board determined to be the savings to taxpayers once this is put in force? Details have been sorely lacking in what this means to the taxpayers of the county monetarily.

Corey A. Stewart: First and foremost, this is a public safety initiative to remove illegal aliens who violate the law. This is money well spent to improve the safety of the public.

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Centreville, Va.: I am a naturalized US Citizen, but still have an accent. If I happen to be stopped by the police in your county what documents should I have to prove my status? Remind you that there are no requirements for a U..S citizen to carry any such documents with him/her at all times... As well how long you anticipate it will take for the officer to confirm my status, based only on my driver's license? Does this infringe on my right against unreasonable search?

Corey A. Stewart: Please see previous reply.

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Woodbridge, Va.: Mr. Stewart, have you and/or your Board members thought about the ramifications of your stupid resolution? What is the County going to do with the U.S. born children whose mothers will be deported due to the regulation? I guess the county will have to pay to support those motherless children right? At what cost? Raising our taxes?

Corey A. Stewart: That is an issue for the immigration judge. Please keep in mind that Prince William County does not ultimately decide whether someone should be deported or not.

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Alexandria, Va.: What steps are you taking to ensure constitutional rights are protected for people subject to these types of stops. As a constitutional attorney, your new procedures/policies seem ripe for numerous Constitutional challenges in court. For example: racial profiling, privacy rights, Fourth Amendment stops, the list goes on.

Corey A. Stewart: We are working very carefully to implement procedures to guard against racial profiling or other discriminatory behavior.

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Washington, D.C.: Where are your ancestors from, Mr. Stewart? Did any of your great-grandparents come to the U.S. as immigrants, as mine did?

As long as the county institutes policies that are so uncaring and unfeeling, I will no longer go to Potomac Mills for shopping. Certainly the mall gives the county money, and I will no longer support any venture that leads to PW County making money. This is the only way I can make an impact. Arundel Mills, prepare for my Christmas shopping dollars!

Corey A. Stewart: Sorry to hear that.

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Manassas, Va.: Who will do the jobs the at $6 and $8 an hour that immigrants currenlty do?

Corey A. Stewart: My sole focus as a local official is the impact of illegal immigration on County services and public safety.

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Manassas, Va.: Mr. Stewart,

Why is this topic an uproar? Legal citizens are expected to obey the laws of this country and pay taxes. Is it a big deal that illegal immigrants are expected to do the same.

I don't understand why the illegals think they have a right to live here without being part of the tax base.

I am not a fan of my supervisor or of the government in this county but I appreciate what you are doing in regard to illegal immigration.

Corey A. Stewart: Thank you. We appreciate your support.

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Woodbridge, Va.: I am a legal Hispanic and have been a resident of Prince William County for a long time. I am proud of you, Mr. Stewart for upholding the National Law while the Federal Government fails us. I came here legally, yes it took time but it was worth it. I am disapointed in my fellow Hispanic brothers and sisters who come sneaking into a country and then pick and choose which laws to follow. By the way -- everyone is asked for ID and proof of residency when doing many different things here. I applaud the police and Mr. Stewart for standing their ground and working to better me and my children's lives.

Corey A. Stewart: Thank you. My own wife is a legal immigrant. On a personsal level, I believe it is unfair that the Federal Government should turn a blind eye to illegal immigration when those who wish to enter our country legally must wait years to do so. As a local government official, my sole focus is the impact of illegal immigration on County services and public safety.

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Manassas, Va.: As a resident of Prince William County, you have my vote. Stopping illegal immigration is the first thing our country needs to address.

Corey A. Stewart: Thank you.

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Chantilly, Va.: How do you justify spending $14 million on a measure to block illegal immigrants from using services that you don't even know if they are using (i.e. substance abuse counseling, homeless assistance, and in-home care for the elderly)? Will it cost more to implement this plan than money saved by denying these services?

Corey A. Stewart: In the long run, I believe these measures will save money and reduce stress on County services. There is no question that the resolution will also improve public safety by removing illegal aliens who violate the law. It is a small price to pay for increased public safety.

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Re: Clarendon's Question: Your answer to Clarendon was too facile. (Glib, if you need a translation.) I am a middle-aged white woman. It will be presumed that I am an American citizen, even though I could be an illegal Canadian. I will not have to carry a birth certificate or passport to prove my citizenship, illegal or not. My Hispanic naturalized citizen neighbor (who speaks fluent English with a Spanish accent) will be hassled by the PW police and be required to show some sort of documentation that he is in fact a citizen. How will you forestall cops stopping people for being "not American" looking? We come in all shapes, sizes, colors, and accents.

Corey A. Stewart: Due to a pending litigation, I cannot answer this question in greater detail.

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Springfield, Va: I comment the PW board for making this tough decision. How can I, as a Fairfax County resident, convince my county board to do the same? With my real estate taxes continuing to rise I would like to see the drain on county resources stopped they should only be for legal residents. Why should I have to continue to pay for law breakers?

Corey A. Stewart: Please encourage the Fairfax Board to cooperate with us on the 287(g) program, which allows localities to initiate deporation proceedings for illegal aliens who commit crimes.

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Stafford, Va.: Mr. Stewart, thank you and your colleagues for doing something our State and Federal officials have failed to do for its citizens. I hope that these measures only serve as a beginning to the long needed crackdown on illegal immigrants.

Corey A. Stewart: Thank you.

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San Jose, Calif.: I am always happy to hear there are actual consequences to immigrating illegally. As a legal immigrant and green card holder I went though a lot of trouble, scrutiny and paid thousands of dollars in fees to be here legally. It angers me that people come here illegally and are given more protections and less trouble than I got while trying to do it. I congratulate you on your effort. I know many of my legal immigrant friends do as well.

Corey A. Stewart: Thank you. I hear that a lot from people who obeyed the law and entered our country legally.

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Washington, D.C.: Mr. Stewart, if your focus was on public safety as you have stated a couple of times, why the effort to identify any possible county service you could to strip from illegals? Is stripping services for the illegal immigrant elderly to help "public safety"? I understand your focus on criminals in the jails, get rid of them, but why all this other nonsense?

Corey A. Stewart: The purpose is improved public safety AND reducing strain on County services. The main purpose, however, is increasing public safety.

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Vienna, Va.: With this new regulation being passed, are you afraid and possibly prepared for the backlash from the community? All of this Immigration talk from the federal government to state and local could also bring along racist feelings to the forefront and people feeling that they can take their frustration out on different ethnic groups, whether they are legally here or not.

Corey A. Stewart: I disagree. Although the dialogue has been tense and controversial, I believe that, in the long run, an open dialogue is good for any community.

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Woodbridge, Va: I support the supervisors' decision. I just hope it will be applied equally to European nannies as well as Latino day laborers. Statistics indicate the majority of illegals are visa overstays and many of these are better able to "fit in" than border crossers. I don't care which one shows up at the public health clinic. I want both of them turned over to INS.

Corey A. Stewart: The law must be applied evenly and fairly, without discrimination or racial profiling.

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Central Virginia: Legal immigrant here, absolutely supporting the decision. When we lived in PW, it hurt me everytime I passed 7-11 on corner of Jeff Davis Dr to see those people just hang out there in clear view of everyone, waiting for someone like me or my husband (U.S. born) to give them job! I am also glad to hear prisons are doing their part to send those people back where they came from -- less waste of taxpayer money and no additional criminals on this side of the border. A better border patrol would help too, instead of prosecuting border patrol agents who do their job.

My question is what about the majority people born in the U.S. -- what do they supposed to do if pulled out for speeding? Carry birth certificate?

Corey A. Stewart: Thank you. I cannot reply to your second question in any specificity due to ongoing litigation.

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Determining legal status: Please stop side-stepping the issue of how you are going to determine who is a U.S. citizen or legal or illegal immigrant. I am a legal immigrant who is very aware of just how complicated the immigration rules are -- my status in this country is valid but my visa isn't and I have had three types of visa so far.

How are you going to determine who is legal and who isn't?

Corey A. Stewart: I cannot reply to this question in any specificity due to ongonig litigation.

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Greenbelt, Md.: A comment and a question:

As the granddaughter of "anchor babies" born to French Canadian immigrants in the late 19th century, I deplore the policies you have put into place in your county. I remember how my late mother felt like a second-class citizen even in a nearly-all-Caucasian community when she was growing up, because "those Canucks" were looked down upon for "taking all the factory jobs away." I cannot in good conscience subject another generation to that kind of racial/ethnic stereotyping.

Since I cannot prove that my great-grandparents entered the United States legally, do you believe that I should be forced to surrender my U.S. passport and leave this country?

Corey A. Stewart: These measures are aimed solely at illegal immigrants, not Latinos or legal immigrants. Our County does not decide whether anyone will ultimately be deported -- that is left up to an immigration judge.

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Waldorf, Md.: It is apparent that you and your board are only interested in serving one portion of the PW population. Are there any diversity initiatives or task forces in your county that can ensure the public safety and general well-being of the immigrants being targeted? There seems to be a lot of unspoken agendas behind this decision.

Corey A. Stewart: Yes. We will be working internally and with an independent third party -- probably a university -- in reviewing the program on an ongoing basis to help guard against racial profiling.

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Loudoun County: You say that 21 percent of inmates in P.W.'s jail are illegal aliens. I am curious how you know this. Are you already obtaining information of immigration status of all prisoners? Most jurisdictions don't collect this information and most assertions such as yours turn out to be false once they're checked. I'd be pleased to be proved wrong. Can you provide me with the specific empirical basis for your claim.

Corey A. Stewart: We have already implemented the 287(g) authority in our jail. The data is solid.

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Washington, D.C.: Have you done a comprehensive cost-benefit analysis on how this tactic is going to affect your economy? I don't see how this could possibly be a net benefit. Seems like the politics of hate to me. I guess that's to be expected of politicians nowadays.

Corey A. Stewart: I disagree. It is incorrect to dismiss these measures as the politics of hate. Illegal immigration has deteriorated the quality of life in the community, and residents have asked us to address it.

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Manassas, Va..: My heartfelt thanks for listening to your constituents, and having the courage to do the right thing!

Corey A. Stewart: Thank you.

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Washington, D.C.: If you are re-elected, what will you do to address the discord in your county that has come about as a result of the battle over immigration?

Corey A. Stewart: Please see previous reply. I will continue efforts to reach into the Latino and legal immigrant communities to correct any misconceptions about these measures.

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Bel Air, Md.: You didn't answer a prior question directly.

I am a naturalized citizen, from India, and probably would be mistaken for someone from middle east.

If I am stopped for any reason in your county, how do they determine that I am legally entitled to be here, and not an illegal immigrant? I don't carry a passport or naturalization papers whenever I leave home.

Corey A. Stewart: No one will be stopped unless they have committed an underlying violation of law. I cannot repond to your second question due to pending litigation.

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Germantown, Md.: During any traffic stop, how will the police officer decide whether or not to check one's immigration status? Accent? Looks? Unless they check everyone equally, or use some random pattern, how will they avoid racial/ethnic profiling? Does this mean that as a U.S. citizen I will be subject to immigration background checks, even though I was born in the U.S. and do not speak with a foreign accent? Should I carry my birth certificate with me?

Corey A. Stewart: I cannot respond to your question due to pending litigation.

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Manassas, Va.: So when this law goes into effect? All Hispanics that are pull over for whatever reasons will have their legal status checked? What criteria or guideline will the police use to determine whether they're to run immigration status check?

If I'm Hispanic I need to carry around my green card or paperwork to prove my legal status? I hate to admit it but this is a really bad time to be a Hispanic in America.

A few years ago we were profiling blacks for the high crime rates in our cities. Then we shifted over to Arabs after the 9/11 attacks. And now Hispanics for coming here legally or illegally to work in low paying jobs to sustain our economy.

I'm of Asian descent and I'm starting to wonder if I'm going to be next.

Corey A. Stewart: Clear police procedures and comprehensive training will be implemented to prevent racial profiling. I cannot answer your second question due to pending litigation.

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Anonymous: I am a legal resident but in future I will try to avoid traveling to PW county if i can. It's not worth the hassle.

Corey A. Stewart: Sorry to hear that. The County is a great place.

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Corey A. Stewart: Thank you all. I respect all of your opinions, even where we disagree.

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