Saturday, October 20, 2007
Prince William County has entered the national debate about local involvement in immigration enforcement. 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. Who do you think the police will ask about their immigration status?
With their unanimous vote earlier this week, the county supervisors also cut off certain services to illegal immigrants who are homeless, elderly or addicted to drugs. The supervisors have yet to determine how they will pay for enforcement of the policies.
More than 1,200 people showed up at the county's government complex in Woodbridge for the vote, the majority of them Latinos opposed to the measures. Many were stunned that their impassioned pleas failed to stir a single dissenting vote.
The resolution approved contains two provisions addressing concerns raised by residents who say the new measures will lead to racial profiling and discrimination. It calls for a public education campaign to ease fears and directs the county to partner with a university or consulting group to review the measures' fairness after two years.
Police Chief Charlie T. Deane has appeared on Spanish-language radio stations to explain the policies and has allocated $25,000 for informational purposes. Under the new rules, officers will cooperate more closely with federal immigration authorities and check the status of anyone who breaks a law or local ordinance if there is probable cause to believe the person is an illegal immigrant. Officials say routine traffic stops may last several hours, as patrol officers sort through foreign identification cards and visa categories and consult with Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents. But Deane said county police will not enforce the measures until all of his 537 officers are trained in determining legal status, which will take months. A seven-officer Criminal Alien Unit created by the board's vote yesterday won't materialize overnight, either. First, the officers will need to be trained by federal agents, and the county is waiting in line along with dozens of other localities targeting illegal immigrants.
A group of 22 plaintiffs has filed a lawsuit against the county and its top officials in federal court seeking to block the measures, claiming that they violate equal protection laws and that immigration enforcement is a federal concern.
The supervisors committed just $325,000 yesterday toward the police measures, which are projected to cost $14.2 million over five years.
Programs that are now off-limits for illegal immigrants include bus tours for senior citizens, leadership training programs for adults, and rental and mortgage assistance. The measures also prohibit illegal immigrants from getting business licenses.
The board of supervisor's chairman, Corey A. Stewart (R), is campaigning for reelection as an illegal-immigration "fighter."
For the Washington Post story on the new law, click here.