A county in Virginia hopes to turn up the pressure on federal immigration officials to reveal more details about undocumented criminals referred by the county for action.
Late Tuesday, supervisors in Prince William County voted to allow the county attorney to file a freedom of information act request to U.S. Immigration & Customs Enforcement, asking ICE for the location of almost 7,000 undocumented immigrants who were arrested in the county and then turned over to ICE.
The county leaders are frustrated that ICE won't tell them where the arrested immigrants are -- and if they are deported, or freed.
"I think the public has a right to know what their federal government has done with dangerous criminal illegal aliens that a local government has handed over to them for deportation," said Chairman Corey Stewart, who helped lead a crackdown in 2007 on undocumented immigrants who committed crimes in the county.
Since the crackdown in 2007, more than 6,300 undocumented immigrants have been arrested and referred to federal officials for action, but Stewart complains that 773 -- more than 10 percent -- wound up back in the county and were arrested for new crimes.
"This is a law enforcement issue, a public safety issue about finding the whereabouts of people that are very dangerous," Stewart said.
Some residents back up the call for information. Outside the Chinn Park Regional Library, Toni Kelly said she doesn't think undocumented criminals deserve special privacy protection.
"I think once they've served their time, their names should be on the list just like if you were in the United States," Kelly said. "I don't think they should be exempt because they are less legal."
But library patron Kevin Garbelman sees it differently. He believes there are privacy concerns even for undocumented criminals who are subject to federal action.
"I have to agree with the federal government on this one," he said. "It is personal information, it is private information."
His wife objects to the proposed resolution for a different reason.
"I think the county government and the supervisors spent too much time and money on this issue in the first place," Alicia Garbelman said. "I think they are focusing on an issue that involves so few people in the county. There is a lot more in the county that they should be focusing on instead that's more important."
Immigration officials hsaid they will provide numerical data to counties that ask but will rarely provide details about individuals. ICE public affairs officer Karissa Fraxca Cutrell provided this statement:
“ICE has implemented clear priorities that focus resources on convicted criminals and other public safety threats, those who repeatedly violate our immigration laws and recent border crossers. The federal government places detainers on individuals arrested on criminal charges to ensure that dangerous criminal aliens and other priority individuals are not released from prisons/jails and into our communities. This equates to sensible, effective immigration enforcement in counties across the country.”
Some of Chairman Stewart's critics suggest the Republican is making a push now just to build his political profile and possibly seek higher office. Democratic Supervisor Frank Principi said he'll support the filing of a Freedom of Information Act request but doesn't want to authorize legal action until that process is exhausted. He's among those who believe Stewart is trying to score political points.
"Everyone knows that Corey Stewart's reputation is built on the illegal immigration debate that took place here in 2006 and '07," said Principi. "It's unfortunate we have to readdress this issue in the context of possibly Sen.Colgan's decision last week to retire. Mr. Corey Stewart lives in Sen. Chuck Colgan's district and many of us believe this is politically motivated."