Agencies Propose Joint Effort To Deport Illegal Immigrants

Agencies Propose Joint Effort to Deport Illegal Immigrants

By Christy Goodman
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, September 5, 2007; Page B05

Five law enforcement agencies in and around Prince William County are seeking to join forces to combat illegal immigration with a proposal for federal training in deportation procedures that local officials said would be one of the first of its kind in the nation.

The multi-agency proposal comes as Republican leaders in the state legislature have announced a measure that would require city and county jails to check the immigration status of defendants in criminal cases.

The Prince William Criminal Alien Initiative, if approved by the federal government, would build on an enforcement effort at the Prince William-Manassas regional jail that has trained officers to begin the deportation process for selected inmates. From mid-July to mid-August, the effort led to 14 new deportation cases at the jail.

The new agreement would include the jail, the county sheriff's office and police departments in Prince William, Manassas and Manassas Park, which together have a population of more than 400,000. The five agencies would use the same immigration enforcement guidelines and have the same training to maintain a consistent approach to what can be a volatile issue. Local officials predicted the initiative would lead to more deportation cases and, they hope, a drop in crime.

“These individuals . . . after serving their local time, would have normally been rereleased back into the community, oftentimes to re-offend,” said Manassas Police Chief John J. Skinner. “They aren't going to get that chance.”

Some immigrant rights advocates are critical of the initiative.

“If the local police are to become involved in enforcing federal immigration law, they are going to rupture the trust they have built with the immigration community,” said John Steinbach, a representative of the Woodbridge Workers Committee, a group that offers support services to immigrants. He predicted that many immigrants would be less likely to report crimes because of fear of being reported to federal authorities.

Originally, Prince William Police Chief Charlie T. Deane did not favor training local police to work with federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents, citing concerns about a possible backlash in the county's Latino community. But Deane shifted position as the county moved toward a tougher stance on illegal immigration.

“The regional approach is the proper way to do this,” Deane said. He plans to present details on the initiative this month to county supervisors.

A similar enforcement policy has emerged in five jurisdictions in the Fayetteville-Springdale metropolitan area of northwest Arkansas. There, a handful of city and county police departments have obtained or are seeking individual agreements and training from Immigration and Customs. There are plans for a joint task force of about five officers from each jurisdiction.

The Florida Department of Law Enforcement has had an agreement with the federal agency since 2003. Don Ladner, the department's special agent in charge of domestic security and intelligence, said the initiative was begun after officials learned that several hijackers in the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks had lived in the state.

Participating officers are trained in specialized aspects of immigration enforcement, focusing on threats related to homeland security, through seven regional task forces in Florida, Ladner said.

“We are not out here stopping cars checking for illegal immigrants, doing business checks or [searching] farm workers. We are not doing normal, everyday immigration enforcement,” Ladner said. Florida's agreement with the federal agency is used “for specific domestic security investigations,” he said.

In the Washington area, officials said, the Herndon police department is the only other agency to have Immigration and Customs training. Sheriff's departments in Virginia's Shenandoah and Rockingham counties also have received the training.

Under the proposed Prince William initiative, Skinner said, each agency would have liaisons to work with federal agents in investigations. Trained officers would have authority to tap Immigration and Customs databases and assist other officers and detectives in the field, Skinner said. Joint efforts, he said, would be “a force multiplier” for the five agencies.

Manassas City Council member Jonathan L. Way (R) said the initiative could “become a national model.”

Federal officials are considering the proposal. “We are working to determine [if] what they are suggesting is an appropriate plan of action and if we'll be able to work with them to tackle the area's specific challenges,” said Immigration and Customs Enforcement spokesman Richard Rocha.

During about four weeks in July and August, the Prince William-Manassas jail processed 56 cases in which inmates were identified as illegal immigrants for possible deportation after their release. Fourteen of those cases, known as “deportation detainers,” were begun by jail officers who had been newly trained under the federal program, said Col. Charles “Skip” Land, the jail's superintendent.