Group Seeks Halt To Review Of Law Cutting Off Illegals

Group seeks halt to review of law cutting off illegals

By Natasha Altamirano
The Washington Times
August 7, 2007

A group opposed to illegal immigration has asked Prince William officials to halt the county Human Rights Commission's review of a recently adopted resolution limiting services to illegal aliens.

Help Save Manassas President Greg Letiecq said the county's nine-member Human Rights Commission does not have the authority to hold 10 scheduled meetings discussing the resolution, which would also toughen local immigration enforcement.

“There's a whole host of problems with it,” Mr. Letiecq said. “One is that this appointed [commission] does not have the legal power to review decisions by an elected body, which, despite all their statements to the contrary, is exactly what they're trying to do.”

In a letter Thursday, Mr. Letiecq asked County Executive Craig S. Gerhart to halt the commission's immigration committee meetings, which he says violate nine provisions of county code, including the circumstances under which the commission may conduct public hearings.

Mr. Gerhart on Friday declined to say whether he planned to stop the meetings. He said he first wants to respond to Mr. Letiecq's letter before discussing his plans.

The Human Rights Commission is charged with ensuring that county laws are consistent with the county code's anti-discrimination policies. The commission's decisions are not binding, and it does not have the authority to overturn decisions of the Board of County Supervisors.

The commission, whose members are approved by the board and serve terms of one to three years, are authorized to hold public hearings to investigate formal complaints of discrimination.

“There has to be a credible violation of the law specifically unlawful discrimination,” Mr. Letiecq said. “It's entirely premature to evaluate complaints of discrimination before they occur.”

Phyllis Aggrey, executive director of the commission, said the commission's four-member immigration committee is not investigatory in nature and the meetings are not public hearings.

She said the commission established the committee for educational purposes because several people contacted the commission with concerns after the board unanimously adopted the resolution July 10.

“It was the commission's opinion at the time that they didn't know enough about the resolution,” she said. “This is just a standing committee that the commission set up as a piece of education on the resolution.”

“No formal charges have been brought by any entity,” Mrs. Aggrey said. “The commission does not intend to bring up formal charges.”

The committee has invited different groups both in favor of and against the resolution to speak at the meetings, she said.

Mr. Letiecq said most of the groups that have spoken at the committee's first three meetings were opposed to the resolution and that his group was not invited to speak until they complained that their views were not being heard.

“Until we chimed in, the organizations that they selected to testify were exclusively those that had voiced dissent with the supervisors' decision,” he said.

The committee has asked the Puerto Rican Legal Defense and Education Fund, which has threatened to sue the county over the resolution, to weigh in on the issue.

“We've been disappointed at the statements by the county government that seems not to be particularly interested in hearing from the Human Rights Commission,” said Cesar A. Perales, president of the group, which was instrumental in helping overturn a Hazleton, Pa., anti-illegal alien ordinance last month.

Board Chairman Corey A. Stewart, a Republican, said he was considering proposing a directive for the commission limiting its role to providing a recommendation on how best to implement the resolution and clear up concerns that the commission may have gotten “off-ask.”

“The fact is, the Board of County Supervisors sets policy for the county,” Mr. Stewart said. “We have set that policy. We listened to the community, there was overwhelming support for the resolution, and we passed it unanimously. We don't need input, at this point, about whether or not that was the right thing to do.”