By Kenric Ward | Watchdog.org Virginia Bureau
MANASSAS — The Obama administration is giving illegal aliens a Happy New Year by canceling an immigration-enforcement program in Prince William County.
Since 2007, police in the Northern Virginia county have turned over 5,500 criminal aliens to the Department of Homeland Security through a local-federal venture called the 287(g) enforcement program.
“The violent crime rate has come down 48.7 percent since 287(g) was implemented. Citizens are safer, and it’s not resulted in a single instance of racial profiling,” County Commission Chairman Corey Stewart told Watchdog.org in a recent interview.
Jessica Vaughn, director of policy studies at the Center for Immigration Studies, said, “Criminal aliens, illegal drunk drivers, identity thieves and gang members are breathing a sigh of relief in Prince William County, as they now have much less chance of being disturbed or uprooted by (federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement) or local police, thanks to the latest move by the White House.”
ICE director John Morton, who is pulling the plug on the Prince William County program at the end of the year, said the Obama administration is converting to a “Secure Communities” initiative, which screens the fingerprints of everyone arrested in the DHS database.
Stewart calls Secure Communities “a joke.”
Since the program only identifies criminal aliens who already have a record with DHS, law-enforcement officials estimate that Secure Communities misses about half of the criminal aliens who are arrested.
“It only catches people who have already been identified as known illegals. There are 500,000 names in the database; there are 12 million illegals in the country,” said Stewart, who is running for the GOP nomination for Virginia’s lieutenant governor.
Prince William County isn’t going quietly. It sued the federal government to learn the status of arrested aliens turned over to the feds by local law-enforcement agents.
More than a year later, DHS responded with a heavily redacted report that county officials call “indecipherable” and “unacceptable.”
“We believe they’ve released many of the criminal aliens,” Stewart said of ICE. Federal immigration officials say they are protecting the “privacy rights” of those involved.
PWC’s lawsuit is pending in U.S. District Court in Alexandria.
The Department of Homeland Security asserts that its Secure Communities program is a more cost-effective, focused alternative to 287(g).
But an examination of Prince William County’s 287(g) program by the University of Virginia and the Police Executive Research Forum (a Ford Foundation group) suggests otherwise.
“The study found that the 287(g) program accomplished its objectives — the illegal alien population got smaller and more illegal alien criminals were removed from the county, without lasting adverse effects on police relationships with immigrant communities,” said Vaughn.
She called the report the “most exhaustive study” of a local immigration enforcement program.
Stewart said Prince William County’s $1.3 million annual outlay to staff 287(g) has been worth it.
The county ranked in the top 25 percent of all 287(g) programs in arrests. Only 13 other U.S. metropolitan areas — all larger cities — apprehended more illegals.
Stewart calls the Obama administration’s phase-out of 287(g) across the nation “political.” Other, smaller Virginia jurisdictions, including Rockingham County, will lose their 287(g) programs as their three-year federal contracts expire. Programs in Arizona and North Carolina already have shut down.
The Prince William commissioner vows that his county’s police will “continue to inquire about the immigration status of everyone apprehended for crime.” But local officials aren’t expecting much help from the federal government going forward.
“Our citizens know that ICE is not going to be able to pick up the slack with additional staff. Instead, the ICE field office will tell the county officers to release most of the illegal aliens who get arrested,” Stewart predicted.
Tom Tancredo, a former Colorado congressman and president of the Rocky Mountain Foundation, is similarly skeptical of the Obama administration’s promises of enforcement.
“Already, in the first year of the Dream Act (which affords legal status to younger immigrants brought to this country illegally), the U.S. Border Patrol has been releasing young people apprehended solely on the basis that they might qualify for amnesty,” Tancredo says.
Prince William officials, meanwhile, vow to press on in court.
“We will embarrass (Washington) into reversing its policy,” Stewart vows. “When a notorious crime is committed by a known illegal immigrant who has not been deported, the administration will have mud on their face. They’re appeasing violent crime.”
Contact Kenric Ward at [email protected] or at (571) 319-9824. @Kenricward