Setting a tough example in what is becoming a movement by many cities and towns throughout the nation, Prince William County in Northern Virginia just outside the Nation’s Capital has taken the issue of dealing with illegal immigrants into its own hands. Last month, following the best-attended — and by far the stormiest — public meeting that county residents can remember, the Board of Supervisors in Virginia’s second-most populous county voted unanimously to permit its police force to ask residents their status as immigrants. If they are found to be in the country illegally, then county police may promptly arrest them and send them on to the local Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) unit to initiate deportation proceedings.
The measure is the brainchild of Republican Supervisor John Stirrup, who cited as his inspiration the June 4 HUMAN EVENTS interview with Hazelton, Pa., Mayor Charles Barletta on how his town took action against a huge influx of illegal immigrants “After reading the interview with Mayor Barletta, I got in touch with him,” onetime Reagan Administration official Stirrup told me days after he and his fellow supervisors enacted the Prince William County measure. “[Barletta] made it clear that when local or county officials took strong actions on their own, those who were there illegally began to leave and the lawlessness went down there.”
“The poisonous fruit of congressional failure,” is how the lead editorial in the July 8 Washington Post referred to the action by Prince William County, taken days after the comprehensive immigration/amnesty package sought by the Bush Administration died in the Senate. “Mr. Stirrup’s measure would have county police act as adjunct immigration agents, determining the status of anyone detained for any kind of violation.”
For its part, the White House made it clear it wasn’t touching the county’s controversial action. At the regular press briefing at the White House July 17, I asked whether, in response to the county’s complaint that ICE was limiting the number of illegal immigrants it could arrest and turn over to them, the administration would support greater funding for the agency to handle more processing and deportation.
“I don’t know, John,” replied White House Press Secretary Tony Snow, “One of the things you’re going to see is until you have a national [immigration] policy, you’ll have county by county, city by city, people coming up with different approaches. And it makes it very complicated to have a unified approach toward dealing with these issues.”
My question to Snow came on the heels of an interview with Corey Stewart, the Republican chairman of the Prince William County Board. (The board is composed of six Republicans and two Democrats, all of whom backed the Stirrup measure.)
“We have had persistent problems growing from the effects of an overflow of illegal immigrants here,” said Stewart, whose suburban county has a population of about 400,000. “We have a tremendous problem with overcrowding of houses, and the schools are becoming crowded faster than housing is. We have about 71,000 students in public schools here and a significant portion of them are illegal immigrants.”
More alarming than crowded schools or housing, Stewart noted, is the rise in violent, gang-related crime. “It has definitely gone up in our county and it is related to illegal immigrants here. We have had an increase in murders, maiming — things unheard of in Prince William County a few years ago — in large part because of MS-13, a violent gang that originated in El Salvador. The MS-13 gang members here are here illegally.”
Stirrup’s measure, Stewart explained, “simply requires police to ask everyone their legal status and their decision whether to ask someone or not is based on probable cause. We have a set of guidelines for police to do this.”
Stewart added that the county has just signed an agreement with ICE, which has seven jail officials empowered to process illegal aliens for deportation to their country of origin. However, because of its limited resources and funding, Stewart said, “ICE has limited us to sending them 40 people a month for the processing procedure.”
At the same press briefing where he dodged the question about administration support of more funding for ICE to help communities that try to deal with the illegal immigration crisis, Tony Snow did concede that “the President realizes that in Prince William County and elsewhere, people are going to be confronting issues about whether people are here legally or illegally.” He was correct. So far this year, 32 states have enacted immigration-related bills and more than 50 local governments have legislation under consideration.