The Oct. 7 Metro article "For Illegals, Help From the Law" described efforts by Fairfax County police to help illegal aliens. The day before the article appeared, the Supreme Court refused to review a decision by the Court of Appeals for the 10th Circuit holding that state and local enforcement officials are free to arrest illegal aliens to the extent permitted by state law. In its decision, the federal appellate court ruled that federal law and congressional policy encourage cooperation between the Immigration and Naturalization Service and local police. The court also noted that 1996 immigration reform legislation encourages local police to participate in enforcing the nation's immigration laws.

By contrast, The Post's article discussed Fairfax County police officers who are working without authorization and who have taken no steps to notify the INS. This nonfeasance apparently is sanctioned by their supervisor. The article also quoted Dennis Merrill, an official with the Virginia Department of Labor and Industry, as stating, "We don't get into immigration issues."

To the extent that police officers are aware of the illegal status of aliens and fail to take action to notify federal officials, they are condoning violation of our nation's immigration laws. Perhaps Congress needs to amend the immigration laws to empower the Department of Justice to prosecute state and law enforcement officials who are aware of violations of immigration laws and fail to take appropriate action.

ROBERT BARTON

Bethesda