Thursday, December 20, 2007

Virginia Official Questions Motivation Behind Prince William Resolution

by Daniela Martinez Moreno
AFSC Special Projects Policy Fellow

Prince William County continues to garner attention for its heated immigration debate. On December 14, Linda Chavez, co-chair of the Virginia State Advisory Committee to the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights' Immigration Subcommittee, convened a hearing in Woodbridge to examine the resolution that was passed by the Prince William County Board of Supervisors this past July. The resolution was introduced by Gainesville District Supervisor John T. Stirrup.

The resolution denies access to county services to individuals who are unable to prove their immigration status in the United States. These services include business licensing, housing assistance, and some support to the elderly. In addition, the resolution calls for local police officers to question criminal suspects about their immigration status if they have "probable cause" to believe the suspect is undocumented.

According to the Virginia State Advisory Committee, Chavez convened the hearing to gather a cross-section of viewpoints from local officials, immigration specialists, and advocacy groups and to understand the motivation behind the enactment of the resolution. The Immigration Subcommittee is conducting a review of immigration issues in Virginia; this includes the potential impact of the resolution vis-a-vis local law enforcement and the provision of services to Prince William County residents.

When questioning Prince William Board of County Supervisors Corey A. Stewart and Stirrup, Chavez asked if it was "facts, or something else" that motivated the Board's decision to pass the resolution. She commented on what appeared to her as "very little fact-finding prior to the board's consideration of this measure," reported the Potomac News.

Police Chief Raises Concerns about Racial Profiling

Prince William Police Chief Charlie T. Deane expressed concerns that the resolution would result in racial profiling, thus hurting local community-policing efforts. These concerns were mirrored by Fairfax County Chairman Gerry Connolly this past August when he scrutinized the resolution's clause, which calls on local policy officers to question criminal suspects about their immigration status if there is a "probable cause."

The Richmond Times informs that the Advisory Committee will compile a preliminary report; additional hearings are under consideration. The final report will be presented to the Federal Civil Rights Commission. "We're to shine the light of day on important civil rights issues and to make recommendations to the civil rights commission, which can then make recommendations to the president and to Congress," said Chavez. At the same time, Prince William County officials plan to implement the measures in the resolution after county staff and police have been trained, which could be as early as January 2008.