A regional effort to combat the illegal criminal element could be coming to fruition in the near future.
This summer, a plan was created called the Prince William Regional Criminal Alien Initiative. That program would combine the efforts of Prince William County, Manassas and Manassas Park police departments with the Sheriff’s Department and the Prince William-Manassas Regional Adult Detention Center in order to arrest and eventually deport criminal illegal immigrants.
On Aug. 1, Prince William County chief of police Charlie T. Deane, Prince William Sheriff Glendell Hill, Manassas police chief John Skinner and Manassas Park police chief John Evans signed a letter requesting that the recent memorandum of agreement between Immigration & Customs Enforcement and the regional jail board would be amended to include their respective jurisdictions.
That would mean each jurisdiction represented would receive the necessary ICE training that select members of the regional jail have already received.
According to a letter from Skinner to Manassas Mayor Douglas Waldron and city council dated Aug. 16, Assistant Secretary for Homeland Security Julie Myers has recently been presented this proposal and initially indicated support for it. The letter also states that the request is currently under review by legal staff at Homeland Security.
Former Manassas council member Jackson H. Miller first introduced the issue to the community last October with a motion that the council support ICE training for Prince William-Manassas regional jail officers as long as Prince William County supported the training as well. But the motion also said that if Prince William County does not support the training, then it would call for the council to go forward with plans to have ICE training for Manassas police officers. The city then passed a resolution based on Miller’s motion.
In a March council meeting, Skinner reported that ICE and the Department of Homeland Security would not allow the county, city and regional jail board to enter into a combined agreement under any circumstances, which prompted Manassas to initially go out on its own this spring. Skinner said there was no specific reason given by ICE for that decision.
But while preparing paperwork to go it alone, Skinner had several meetings with the various regional jurisdictions. They ultimately decided that going in together made more sense than applying as separate jurisdictions.
After conducting several meetings with ICE, the respective police heads were able to convince those federal representatives of their commitment to tackling the criminal illegal immigrant issue.
“I think we made it clear that we were willing to work closely with them in developing deportation criteria and the range of offenses a criminal alien might be considered for deportation process,” Skinner said.
If approved, Skinner said he anticipates the agreement between Manassas Park, Prince William County and Manassas will be ready to be presented to Manassas city council for its review in the next 60 days.
Skinner foresees about six city officers, the majority of them detectives, to be cross-trained if the agreement becomes official. These officers would likely be able to implement this training in specialized areas like street and gang crime, said Skinner.
Evans said his department will be ready for that training when the time comes but hasn’t decided how to allocate his resources toward the new program yet. Deane said he will address the issue of staffing at a Sept. 18 Board of Supervisors meeting.
Despite the potential effectiveness of the program, there are some limitations. For example, ICE told Deane that only 40 criminal illegal immigrants can be deported from the regional jail per month. And final decisions on whether a person is deported or not is up to ICE’s discretion, Skinner said .
“They are the lynchpin, they are the chokepoint that expands and controls this,” Skinner said of ICE. “We will recognize that fact and cooperate fully with them.”
There have also been questions raised on how having ICE trained officers in these respective communities might affect the police departments’ relationships with the immigrant populations. Media General’s Richmond Times-Dispatch recently quoted Deane as saying there will be many challenges in implementing ICE training and there is a chance that this implementation could lead to a perception of racism and a lack of trust between the two entities.
Skinner said he shares some of the same concerns as Deane and that the jurisdictions will have to look at other states like California and Arizona to see how effectively ICE training can be implemented at the local level.
Despite those concerns, Deane said training its officers in ICE will be “sending a clear message” to the community that they will “always be striving to protect the victims and witnesses” and that “this program is focused on criminal illegal aliens.”
As of last week, there have been 56 deportation detainers processed at the regional jail, according to Skinner’s letter to mayor and council. There have also been another 35 inmates at the regional jail queued in process for detainers — 23 of them on felony charges and 12 on misdemeanor charges like stalking, malicious wounding, abduction and sexual assault.
Manassas Councilman Jonathan Way said he understands the limitations of the program and that ICE training on a regional level is still a major step forward in combatting the issue of illegal immigrant criminal activity.
“It could be a model for the rest of the nation,” Way said.
Manassas Park councilwoman Fran Kassinger said this is a positive way to address the illegal immigrant criminal element in the regional community.
“What we don’t want is vigilante groups, that would be hazardously and inappropriately addressing the situation,” Kassinger said. “We need to do this within the law and this is one way we can demonstrate this.”