The Prince William County supervisors abolished a key part of the county's illegal-immigration policy last night by directing police officers to question criminal suspects about their immigration status only after they have been arrested.
In October, the Board of County Supervisors directed officers to check the legal status of crime suspects, no matter how minor the offense, if they think the person might be in the country unlawfully.
It remains to be seen how big a deal this is. On the surface, it looks like a big change -- before if you got pulled over for speeding, you could be questioned. Now you can only be questioned if you are actually arrested, not just if you are questioned (I'm not sure but I don't think a speeding ticked is considered an arrest).
But the initial reports on the policy suggested that most everybody who was found to have questionable status was actually arrested, so the number of total people detained may be the same under the new policy.
It was a strange session. Principi, in part arguing it wasn't fair to make the police to this task without giving them cameras, proposed a resolution recinding the policy:
Supervisor Frank J. Principi (D-Woodbridge) used the camera budget cut as a rationale for offering a proposal to change the policy the board approved in October.
That was voted down. But then when Corey Stewart moved to put the cameras back into the budget, Principi voted against it, helping to stop it:
Before the board's final vote, Stewart made a motion to add nearly $4 million to the budget, restoring funds for cameras and additional police staffing that were tentatively cut last week.
That vote appears to have prompted a closed session where the supervisors decided to simply punt on the part of the resolution that seemed to require cameras, and pretend nothing had changed. If you believe that, you will be impressed at how they even got Principi to vote against this change, in order to make it look like it wasn't anything like what he had proposed earlier.
And the supervisors are furiously working on convincing people all is well. Again from the Post:
"The basic policy is fundamentally the same. We just changed the way it's implemented," Supervisor Martin E. Nohe (R-Coles) said. "We want to give officers discretion in the field to use their judgment about when they ask and when they don't. This allows them to make their own call."
The policy as it were is ALL in the implementation. Heck, that's all the policy really was -- implementation. Question people about legal status, detain them if they seem to be illegal. That's not a policy, that's an implementation of immigration law. If you change that implementation, you've fundamentally altered "the policy".
The Post continues:
Chairman Corey A. Stewart (R-At Large) said the change will not amount to any "appreciable difference in the number of people arrested."
I'm not sure if Corey was being clever, or was just too tired to make a rational statement here. Under the new policy, they will question for immigrant status if you get arrested. So if you were going to be arrested, you will still be arrested -- hence, it will not change the number of people arrested.
Further, I can tell you that if it does change the number of illegal immigrants who are detained and deported, the difference will be most UNAPPRECIATED.
Corey pretty much seems to have set this up with his motion for cameras before the closed session:
Before the board's final vote, Stewart made a motion to add nearly $4 million to the budget, restoring funds for cameras and additional police staffing that were tentatively cut last week. He said he has received information that convinced him that the cameras are needed for the safety of the officers. His proposal failed on a split vote by the eight-member board.
"I have voted against every tax increase this board has put up," Stewart said before the board deadlocked on his motion. "This resolution is vitally important. It is making a difference, and long term it is going to save the residents of this county money. We need to do it right. We cannot leave our officers exposed."
I mean, if he believed the cameras were needed to safely implement the resolution, and if he believed we could not leave our officers exposed, what choice was there?
Wally Covington put it best:
The debate turned on us," Supervisor W.S. Covington III (R-Brentsville) said. "Suddenly . . . having cameras matters. The perception is you start to lose credibility on your commitment to curb illegal immigration without them."
That's a shame. The cameras are a good idea in general for law enforcement (although they seem way overpriced). But they really aren't germaine to the illegal immigration crackdown, and if they were so important, the Chief should have been pushing for cameras years ago -- we'd probably have a federal grant by now.
This could really rile up the anti-illegal-immigration crowd. However, there will be a lot of political pressure for the leaders of that movement to claim this as a victory. So it remains to be seen how that dynamic will play out.
I've got to get to bed. I'm not feeling well. And not just because of what I just watched the board do.
BTW, the Washington Times thinks this new resolution is better. But they are almost certainly wrong. They claim that:
With the board's decision, county police can verify the immigration status of anyone they arrest, even for minor infractions such as speeding or jaywalking. Before, they needed probable cause to think the person was in the country illegally.
But in fact, EVERY illegal who gets arrested and taken to jail was already having immigration status checked, under the 287G program. The only question was whether we should question, in the field, people who were not being arrested, or people being arrested but then released without being taken to jail.
Under the old resolution, anybody being arrested could be questioned in the field, if there was "probable cause", or else you'd just wait until they were in jail.
Under the old resolution, you could also question anybody you pulled over, if you had "probable cause". And you could question under probable cause those you arrested but didn't send to jail.
Under the new resolution, you can ALWAYS question arrested people (most of whom would go to jail and be questioned there anyway). And you can NOT question those you don't arrest.
So the question is: Were there more probably cause questioning of non-arrested people, or more probable cause questionings of people who were arrested and NOT taken to jail.
The Washington Times article gives us the answer:
As of April 1, police said they had had contact with 89 illegal immigrants and that 46 received a ticket but were not arrested or detained
46 people who the learned were illegal immigrants, were NOT arrested or detained. Under this new "stiffer" policy, those 46 could NOT be questioned anymore.
The only real question is whether this new resolution actually gives police the "choice" to question anybody they want, even if they aren't arresting them. If so, it is possible it will lead to more questionings, not less. However, left to the police discretion, it seem clear Chief Deane would be leaning to telling his men NOT to question anybody they weren't forced to under law.