Fairfax County's supervisors sent a letter to the county's congressional representatives yesterday asking them to work toward ensuring that the USA Patriot Act protects their constituents' civil rights as it defends national security.
The two-page letter was a compromise between doing nothing to oppose the expanded investigative powers the act grants to law enforcement agencies and adopting a resolution opposing the law. Many Washington area governments have opposed the law outright.
"I am writing to express our support of civil rights, civil liberties and the core values of justice and equality for everyone," Board of Supervisors Chairman Gerald E. Connolly (D) wrote of the act, which is up for reauthorization this year.
The letter -- copies of which were sent to the county's federal lawmakers -- said Fairfax residents "are deeply concerned" about the law enacted by Congress six weeks after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.
"One out of four people in Fairfax is foreign-born," Connolly said at the board's bi-weekly meeting, where the letter was made public. "We want to make sure that all of those people are reassured that when they encounter the justice system they will be treated fairly."
The letter culminated a year-long effort by Supervisor Catherine M. Hudgins (D-Hunter Mill) to have the board go on record condemning provisions of the law that allow investigators to see people's library records and ease requirements for search warrants.
The letter "does articulate some of the concerns," Hudgins said after voting with her colleagues to support it. "At least Fairfax County isn't silent."
John Ullyot, a spokesman for Sen. John W. Warner (R-Va.), said the senator "will take the views of Fairfax officials into account" when he reexamines the Patriot Act. "But Senator Warner is a supporter of the law and believes it is an integral part of the war on terror."
Also yesterday, the supervisors directed County Executive Anthony H. Griffin to seek a guarantee from Legal Services of Northern Virginia that legal aid lawyers will not represent tenants in federally subsidized apartments who have been convicted of illegal drug or gang activity when the government tries to evict them.
Supervisor T. Dana Kauffman (D-Lee) said the agency, which receives county funding, recently opposed housing officials' efforts to evict a tenant found to be using drugs.
Charles Greenfield, executive director of Legal Services, said the agency represents "innocent parties" -- mostly relatives of those accused or convicted of crimes -- in eviction proceedings. But he said he is not aware of any representation of tenants involved in illegal activities. "If the board has concerns about particular cases, I'm willing to take a look at those," he said.
The board also agreed to spend $2.5 million from its new $18 million affordable housing fund to help a nonprofit housing developer, Wesley Housing Development Corp., buy an apartment complex in Centreville. Almost half of the 216 units in Madison Ridge will be preserved as below-market rentals; the rest will be converted into market-rate condominium units. The complex probably would have been sold to a developer for a complete condominium conversion, officials said.