After this year, county law enforcement authorities would no longer be able to investigate the immigration status of people they arrest. Instead, they would only be able to check those arrested against a federal immigration database that contains the names of anyone who has come into contact with federal immigration authorities.
“We have a duty to protect our citizens and to make our community safe,” said Corey A. Stewart, the chairman of the Prince William Board of County Supervisors. “If someone commits a crime and they are here illegally, they should be deported.”
The news came in letters last week from U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement to the county sheriff’s office, the jail and police department, and as the Obama administration has instructed federal immigration offices around the country to focus on border security and those who commit serious crimes.
The Department of Homeland Security has begun phasing out agreements with local law enforcement agencies across the country to identify illegal immigrants. Prince William County, which passed a measure to crack down on illegal immigrants in 2007, was one of the first jurisdictions in the country to sign such an agreement, known as a 287 (g).
County officials said they thought they would be negotiating a new three-year agreement with federal officials and were stunned to see it expire at the end of this year.
As the federal government phases out the agreements, it is moving instead to a program called Secure Communities, which uses the ICE database.
“The Secure Communities screening process, coupled with federal officers, is more consistent, efficient and cost effective in identifying and removing criminal and other priority aliens,” said Danielle Bennett, an ICE spokeswoman, in a statement.
But Stewart called the move “further evidence that ICE is abdicating its responsibilities.”
In a statement, Prince William officials said that 5,000 people arrested in the county so far have been found to be in the country illegally. With the change, they estimated that the number would drop by 60 percent.
The change would mean that fewer illegal immigrants are identified, said Jessica Vaughan of the Center for Immigration Studies, a District-based nonpartisan think tank that studies immigration issues. Vaughan said that ICE’s regional office would have to decide on any given day which cases in what areas are worth pursuing in an environment in which budgets are tight and there probably won’t be new hires to pick up the slack.
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