One County Saw a 27% Drop in Assaults After It Helped Enforce Immigration Law
In July 2007, the elected board of a growing county in Northern Virginia adopted a controversial resolution requiring the police department to partner with the federal government to help deport illegal immigrants.
Corey Stewart, the Republican elected the year before as chairman of the Prince William Board of County Supervisors, ran on a platform of stricter immigration enforcement during a time of economic anxiety.
“The main purpose of the resolution was to remove criminal illegal aliens so they couldn’t commit crimes, and to reduce illegal immigration to Prince William County,” Stewart recalled in an interview with The Daily Signal.
Before 2007, Prince William, a county of about 450,000 today, experienced dramatic growth in the number of foreign-born residents.
Most of these recent arrivals were Latino, a segment of the total population that almost doubled from 11.5 percent in 2000 to 21.9 percent in 2006.
The debate over the immigration enforcement measure, amplified by demonstrations and phone and email campaigns to sway the eight county supervisors, ended with a 15-hour board meeting.
More than 100 people testified before board members, delaying the vote, The Washington Post reported. Prince William’s supervisors, including six Republicans and two Democrats at the time, approved the measure unanimously.
Test Case: ‘Avoided the Controversy’:
Prince William’s policy, as originally implemented in March 2008, required police to inquire about the immigration status of anyone officers encountered who they suspected to be in the country illegally, including people stopped for traffic tickets, for instance.
The Obama administration shunned policies like this one, which were authorized through the use of a program known as 287(g) that permits local and federal immigration partnerships.
The George W. Bush administration had expanded the use of 287(g) agreements—named for the section of the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1996, signed by President Bill Clinton, that created them.
In President Barack Obama’s second term, however, his administration curtailed the 287(g) program, citing investigations and court rulings that found local officers in some jurisdictions had engaged in racial profiling when enforcing immigration law.
The most high-profile case was in Maricopa County, Arizona’s most populous county, where a federal judge ruled in May 2013 that Sheriff Joseph Arpaio’s policy discriminated against Latinos.
But today, as part of its own effort to strengthen immigration enforcement, the Trump administration is seeking to encourage and expand the use of 287(g) agreements.
In new memos detailing implementation of President Donald Trump’s immigration policies, John Kelly, secretary of the Department of Homeland Security, called the program a “highly successful force multiplier” that would help overburdened federal deportation agents enforce immigration law.
As local politicians and law enforcement agencies decide whether or how to act on Trump’s call for help, observers say Prince William’s experience can be instructive on how to make a successful partnership that balances community and security concerns.
After pushback from the police chief at the time, Charlie Deane, who worried about diverting resources from normal operations to immigration enforcement and harming public trust, the board of supervisors suspended the policy at the end of April 2008.
The board implemented a revised policy in July 2008.
Under the change, police officers could inquire about immigration status only after arresting someone and taking him or her to the county jail—not during interactions on the street before making an arrest.
“Prince William County took a moderate, down-the-middle approach and avoided the controversy,” said Randy Capps, the director of research for U.S. programs at the Migration Policy Institute, who helped write a study of 287(g) programs that included Prince William County.
“That’s an interesting contrast with other police departments and sheriff’s offices, and it shows that for this to work, it has to be somewhat reflective of local concerns,” Capps told The Daily Signal. “We have a tradition in the U.S. of local control over policing, and that will mean variations in policing when it comes to immigrants.”
Stewart, who served as Trump’s campaign chairman in Virginia, had fought scaling back the county’s policy of enforcing immigration law.
But today he credits the change with helping reduce serious crimes in Prince William County, such as aggravated assault—which declined 27 percent after announcement of the original policy in July 2007—while also respecting residents.
According to a University of Virginia report from 2010, no one made a substantiated claim of racial profiling related to the immigration enforcement program. Stewart says that is still the case.
Police officials issued bilingual brochures explaining the modified program to residents, and conducted hundreds of briefings with religious groups, social service agencies, and school faculty, among others.
“I opposed the change at the time, but at the end of the day, it was good,” Stewart told The Daily Signal, adding: