By Kathryn Watson | Watchdog.org, Virginia Bureau
ALEXANDRIA, Va. — For Corey Stewart, chairman of the Prince William County Board of Supervisors, the border crisis isn’t something far away — or something new.
This week, the Prince William County Board of Supervisors voted 5-1 to file a request under the Freedom of Information Act demanding to know the whereabouts of the roughly 7,000 illegal immigrants who have committed crimes, been arrested by county police and been placed in the hands of Immigrations and Customs Enforcement since 2008.
This isn’t the first attempt Stewart, a Republican, and his colleagues have made to get the federal government to remove individuals who are threatening and damaging their community.
In 2008, county police began asking the legal status of everyone arrested for a crime. When illegal immigrant Carlos Montano killed a nun in 2010 after being previously arrested for DUIs and released by ICE, county officials began to go after the feds with full force of the law.
“This is an unnecessary threat to public safety,” Stewart told Watchdog.org. “You’re never going to be able to get rid of all the criminals in the community. You can’t keep people in jail indefinitely. But when you have the option to remove someone who you know is dangerous, it’s an unnecessary risk to public safety and it’s just because the federal government refuses to do its job.”
Wondering how widespread ICE’s failure to deport dangerous illegal immigrants is, county officials requested the whereabouts of those roughly 3,000 arrested illegal immigrants. When they were turned down, the county took the feds to court in 2011 — and lost. The federal judge said they hadn’t taken every possible administrative step to get the information.
Now, with the national immigration debate fueling the fire and county residents wondering where those now roughly 7,000 dangerous immigrants are, Stewart decided to go forward with a request under FOIA through the Department of Homeland Security. If that doesn’t work, Stewart said the county will sue — and he’s confident this time be successful.
Virginia’s illegal immigrant population, estimated at 295,000 as of 2008, costs state taxpayers at least $1.7 billion per year, according to the Federation for American Immigration Reform. For Stewart, however, cost isn’t the main concern. It’s safety.
When some people ask Stewart why he as a local representative is getting involved in a national issue, he says he isn’t.
“I’m not involved in the illegal immigration debate,” Stewart said. “I don’t want to get involved in the big question about immigration. My angle on this is public safety. For every local government official, their number one job responsibility is to keep the public safe. And if you’ve got people who are committing crimes and they’re here illegally then their job is to keep them in jail as long as you can and once they’ve been released if they’re here illegally is to get them out of the country or at least the community.”
Next, Stewart wants to focus specifically on illegal immigrants who are sexual offenders.
Federal law requires all levels of law enforcement to report sexual offenders. But if nobody knows where they are, Stewart said DHS could be to blame.
“Child rapists and everything else — are they back in the neighborhood or are already reported? Because we don’t know where they are. We don’t even know if DHS has added them to the registry or not. At a bare minimum it’s violating the spirit of the (law), which is to protect children from sexual predators.”
The failure to deport criminals was a problem in the county during the George. W. Bush administration — but President Obama isn’t helping, Stewart said.
“The Obama administration has been saying they don’t want to give amnesty to criminals, but that’s what they’ve been doing,” Stewart said. “… Even when their deportation hearing comes, it’s usually years later, giving them years of potential criminal activity.”
The feds’ “stonewalling,” Stewart said, is incredibly frustrating — not just for average citizens, but for the police officers who place these offenders in jail, knowing they could very well be released into the community to commit a crime again.
“I’m concerned about any person who is violent,” Stewart said. “But the difference is when there’s someone here who is violent and here illegally, they can be removed. We have a tool for that.”
— Kathryn Watson is an investigative reporter for Watchdog.org’s Virginia Bureau, and can be found on Twitter @kathrynw5.