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Monday, December 28, 2009

House bill would cut local immigration enforcement program

David Sherfinski | WA Examiner Staff Writer
December 28, 2009

A bill introduced in the House would eliminate an immigration enforcement program used by Prince William and Loudoun counties,but experts say enforcement partnerships between federal and local governments likely will survive.

The program, known as 287(g), deputizes local law enforcement officials to enforce some federal immigration laws. Critics have argued that it lacks direction and can lead to racial profiling.

In Virginia, Prince William and Loudoun counties, Manassas City, Manassas Park City and Herndon have partnered with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, or ICE, in the program.

The program's value is probably more symbolic at this point with the expansion of another program, known as Secure Communities, said Michael Fix, senior vice president and director of research at the Migration Policy Institute. MPI is a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization that studies the migration of people worldwide.

Through Secure Communities, local agencies can access biometric records from the Department of Homeland Security to check inmates' immigration status. Prince William and Fairfax counties have joined the program.

Experts say the comprehensive immigration reform bill introduced by Rep. Luis Gutierrez, D-Ill., has a long way to go. Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., also is crafting a bill, and House leadership has said the Senate must proceed first, according to Doris Meissner, director of the U.S. Immigration Policy Program at MPI.

Meissner said the program likely would survive because the Senate bill would have to attract Republicans to pass.

"My guess is that keeping 287(g) would be one of the things that would be part of a Republican agenda, knowing how the 287(g) story has unfolded since 1996," she said.

Alan Kraut, a professor of immigration history at American University, agreed.

"I think there has to be some cooperation at different levels," he said.

Should it survive, the program could expand throughout Virginia. Rebublican Gov.-elect Bob McDonnell has said he would like to see Virginia State Police trained for the program.

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