Five years ago, before the nation’s eyes focused on Arizona’s immigration law, they were on Prince William County and its ordinance allowing law enforcement to check the immigration status of those who had been arrested.
Prince William County did not include the broader crackdown in Arizona’s law that the U.S. Supreme Court rejected Monday.
“I never thought it was a great idea for Arizona to create its own immigration law,” said Prince William County Board of Supervisors Chairman Corey Stewart, who led the fight in favor of the ordinance. “It’s enough, I believe, simply to enforce federal immigration law, which is what we do in Prince William County.”
The biggest payoff of the ordinance has been a drop in violent crime, Stewart said.
Opponents dispute its public safety benefits, arguing it has fostered distrust between Latinos and police and has actually increased crime in that community.
“If anything it has caused increase in crime in communities where Latinos live because of the fear,” said. “People will target Latinos because they know that they are afraid to contact the police.”
Surveys show that residents increasingly support the ordinance. Sheila Mitchell told News4 the ordinance helped clear drug dealers from her block.
“If they’re here illegally and they are doing illegal things, then, by all means, they should return to where they came from,” she said.
In the past five years, Prince William County has referred 5,070 criminals to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement after they were arrested and found to be without proper documents. More than 4,700 of them were turned over to ICE.
However, county officials say the federal government won’t tell them what it does with the referred criminals. A lawsuit against the Department of Homeland Security is pending.