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Posted at 2:48 PM ET, 11/18/2010

Prince William wants jurisdictions to follow its lead on immigration

By Jennifer Buske

Prince William County supervisors are calling on other localities in the Commonwealth to follow their lead and adopt an immigration policy similar to the one they put in place nearly three years ago.

With a vote of 6 to 2, supervisors approved a policy statement Tuesday that states the county has implemented an "effective" immigration policy and given its "successful implementation," it is something that should be used by all law enforcement agencies across the Commonwealth. The statement was approved as part of the board's legislative agenda.

Supervisors Frank J. Principi (D-Woodbridge) and Martin E. Nohe (R-Coles) cast the dissenting votes, questioning if the board was suggesting or requiring jurisdictions to participate in immigration reform.

"This sounds like an unfunded mandate and I know we don't appreciate unfunded mandates," Principi said. "Our policy costs millions of dollars to implement and if that's the case, I'm not sure I want to be in the position to [authorize] an unfunded mandate."

The legislative priority was initiated by board Chairman Corey A. Stewart, who, earlier this year, began a separate campaign to bring immigration reform to Virginia. Although his original campaign, dubbed the Virginia Rule of Law, advocated the state adopt a policy similar to Arizona's controversial law, Stewart said Wednesday he would prefer the state adopt a policy similar to Prince William's and direct jurisdictions to follow it.

"Yes this costs money and you could consider it an unfunded mandate, but the reality is some things are worth it," Stewart said, noting he views illegal immigration as an unfunded mandate. "I want the mandate. The message we want to send is this policy worked for Prince William and it would be good on a statewide basis."

Nowhere in the statement approved by the board does it say Virginia should mandate jurisdictions follow a specific immigration policy. Instead, it says that the county supports the implementation of similar policies and programs because it will "enhance public safety across the Commonwealth."

Supervisor Michael C. May (R-Occoquan) said if the board had asked the state to mandate jurisdictions participate in immigration reform, he would want the state to fund it and reimburse Prince William for the millions it has spent implementing its policy.

Adopted in 2007 and modified in 2008, Prince William's policy requires police officers to check the immigration status of all people arrested on suspicion of violating state or federal law. The original policy directed officers to check the immigration status of people only if there was probable cause to believe that they were in the country illegally.

Stewart said Del. Jackson H. Miller (R-Manassas) is drafting immigration legislation that he will introduce when the General Assembly convenes in January. Stewart said the legislation likely would pass the House but that the Senate would be tricky. If it fails, Stewart said, it could become an election issue.

Miller has not returned a call seeking comment.

The board's action Tuesday came after supervisors were briefed on a University of Virginia study that looked at the policy's implementation and impact . The report said there was evidence the policy had had some effect as the Hispanic noncitizen population in Prince William had decreased; the growth in the county's Hispanic population now lags behind other jurisdictions. The report noted, however, that the decrease happened simultaneously with the economic downturn and mortgage crisis.

The report also said the policy has damaged Prince William's reputation as a welcoming community and created some initial distrust among Hispanic residents. Researchers said the policy did not affect most types of crime. While aggravated assaults dropped significantly, only 6 percent of those arrested for serious crimes in 2009 were illegal immigrants.

"I did toy with duplicating Arizona's law," Stewart said, "but now that Prince William's law has been tried and tested and the study shows very few negative impacts and a lot of positive impacts, I think we have the data needed" to implement on a statewide level.

By Jennifer Buske  | November 18, 2010; 2:48 PM ET
Categories:  Corey Stewart, Immigration, Prince William  
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