Virginia AG Credits Local, State Officials with Capturing Sex Offenders in Illegal Immigration Crackdown

By Kevin Mooney | November 17, 2008 | 6:49 PM EST

Virginia's Republican attorney general Bob McDonnell (Photo courtesy of McDonnell's Web site)

(CNSNews.com) - Violent sex offenders who are also illegal aliens in Virginia were identified, located, and deported thanks to a well-coordinated joint operation earlier this year involving both state and federal officials.
 
The effort should serve as a model for immigration enforcement throughout the United States, Bob McDonnell, Virginia’s Republican attorney general, told CNSNews.com in an exclusive interview.
 
“Operation Cold Play” made it possible for the U.S. Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agency to place 171 convicted criminal alien sex offenders into deportation proceedings thanks in large part to local and state involvement in the investigation, McDonnell explained in an email.
 
After examining the birthplace of each offender in Virginia’s sex offender registry, state police shared the information with ICE agents, who then cross-checked the information with their own databases.
 
The joint effort between Virginia and ICE was part of a larger federal initiative called Operation Predator, which was launched in 2003 for the purpose of targeting child pornographers, human traffickers and smugglers.
 
“There is much more that we can do, and we must do it for the sake of public safety in our communities,” McDonnell said. “In the meantime, there are a number of innovative and proactive ways that state and local law enforcement and federal immigration authorities can work together to address some of our most pressing issues involving criminal illegal aliens.”
 
McDonnell favors making changes to state law that would allow Virginia to take better advantage of a little-known provision in federal law that allows for local and state officials to assume a larger role in the enforcement of immigration laws.
 
This stance puts him at odds with Virginia’s Democratic governor, Tim Kaine.
 
Section 287 (g) of the Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act authorizes the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and its ICE division to enter into partnerships with state and local law enforcement agencies.
 
That provision, which became effective in 1996, allows participating officers on the local and state level to operate as federal immigration agents. The program can be applied and shaped in a variety of ways depending upon local prerogatives.
 
In Alabama, for instance, state troopers work with motor vehicle licensing stations to verify the immigration status of foreign nationals. Other localities that have entered into agreements with ICE have utilized the program in their prison system. The Mecklenburg County Sheriff’s Office in North Carolina, for instance, received its 287(g) authorization in February 2006.

Bob McDonnell, Virginia’s Republican attorney general (Photo courtesy of McDonnell's Web site)

Sheriff’s deputies in Mecklenburg now have the authority to check on the immigration status of all detainees who were not born in the United States.
 
There is also a “task force” component to the 287(g) that enables local law enforcement officers to work in the field alongside federal agents. Officers who have the task force authorization, for instance, can target and arrest illegal aliens who participate in larger criminal enterprises that typically involve drug trafficking and gang activity.
 
At this point in Virginia, 287(g) has been implemented only on a local basis in the Prince William County jail system, and the governor’s approval is needed before state agencies can get involved.
 
“I have been very vocal in repeatedly calling on Governor Kaine to approve 287(g) authority for the Virginia State Police, Department of Corrections, and the Department of Motor Vehicles,” McDonnell said in his statement to CNSNews.com.
 
“He has repeatedly refused to do so. I believe that allowing the state police and other agencies to become 287(g)-certified would enable state and local law enforcement to maximize limited resources,” McDonnell added.
 
“State police could be utilized anywhere within the Commonwealth as needed to assist the work of local law enforcement,” said McDonnell. “It would be better to safeguard our communities and our citizens. I will continue to strongly advocate for this common sense public safety policy.”
 
Gordon Hickey, a spokesman for Kaine, told CNSNews.com that the governor continues to have misgivings about asking state police officers to assume federal burdens that apparently will detract from their primary responsibilities.
 
“The governor feels it should not be the job of states to enforce federal immigration laws,” Hickey said. “We are already cooperating with federal officials as it is.
 
“Whenever the state police find someone who is here illegally, they are turned over to federal immigration authorities, and the same is true with the Department of Corrections. But they are not out actively hunting for immigration violations. This is not part of their job,” he added.
 
The National Council for La Raza (NCLR), a liberal Hispanic civil rights group, has been sharply critical of legislation that would heighten local and state involvement in immigration enforcement.
 
Elena Lacayo, the immigration legislative and field associate with the NCLR, told CNSNews.com that the Hispanic community could be further marginalized and less willing to cooperate with local authorities as a result of the 287(g) program.
 
“Traditionally, the immigrant community and the local police have been close allies,” said Lacayo. “People have been willing to come forward and to report on crimes and share information with the police. That’s why it’s important to maintain this division between state and federal authorities.”
 
The 287(g) program could also open the way to racial profiling, said Lacayo.
 
Even when the program is limited to the prison system, as opposed to task force operations, some police officers might be tempted to arrest a Hispanic motorist, for instance, on questionable charges, knowing that their residency status will come under scrutiny while in prison, she said.
 
Law enforcement will suffer over the long term if 287(g) programs continue to advance, because the Latino community will be less willing to come forward with information to improve public safety and curtail criminal activity, Lacayo said.
 
But the Virginia attorney general disagrees. Tighter cooperation and coordination between law enforcement at all levels of the government will actually enhance public safety and improve investigative techniques, McDonnell said.
 
Operation Cold Play offers up a “great example” for how state and federal officials can work in concert to protect the citizenry, he said. Some of the most violent registered sex offenders who were not U.S. citizens were located and deported, McDonnell added, because Virginia agents and ICE agents pooled their resources.
 
“Illegal aliens who commit crimes in Virginia cannot and should not be protected from deportation by anyone,” McDonnell told CNSNews.com. “Criminal illegal aliens have no place in our Commonwealth. This is about the rule of law and ensuring a safe and secure society.”
 
The 287(g) program can be best utilized in Virginia by the state police in regional drug and gang task forces in the attorney general’s view. The idea is to train and certify a limited number of state troopers within these task forces, which would then work with local enforcement agencies, said McDonnell.
 
“The [federal] authority can complement their [the state police’s] current work of investigating state criminal law violations and give them another tool to fight crime,” he wrote.
 
“If in the course of investigating a state crime violation it is determined that the suspect is a criminal illegal alien, they can then be lawfully taken into custody by the state authorities, and we will not have to rely solely on federal authorities,” he added.

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