As Herndon continues to struggle with the day laborer situation on Alabama Drive, town officials met with representatives from the Bureau of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (BICE) to discuss possible solutions.
Last month, the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS), was formally rolled into the new Office of Homeland Security. Last week, the deputy director of the district that includes Virginia and Washington, D.C., Warren Lewis and two of his agents, sat down with Mayor Richard Thoesen, councilman Dennis Husch, town manager Stephen F. Owen, Richard Kaufman, the town attorney, Toussaint E. Summers, Jr., Herndon police chief, Elizabeth Hagg, the Neighborhood Resources Coordinator, and a Judy McCary, a staffer from the Herndon office of U.S. Rep. Frank Wolf (R-10).
"The immigration people talked a lot about their resources, or lack there of," Thoesen said. "The purpose of the meeting was to establish a protocol from what they would expect from the town and what we would expect from them."
Owen said the meeting was an important first step. "It was good to sit down face-to-face with the BICE folks," he said. "It's important that we have established a working relationship with them, so next time their name is in my Rolodex."
Summers also appreciated the meeting with Lewis. "I am very familiar with the INS laws, but it was good to put a name with a face, that will only help our working relationship."
<b>THOESEN, HUSCH AND OWEN</b> all expressed surprise at the numbers of people the bureau has on staff. "We found that their resources were very meager," the mayor said. "I think they have 25 deputies to monitor all of Virginia and D.C., that's it and their total focus is criminalized aliens, they can't get involved in day laborer situation."
During the March 19 Town Council work session, the mayor was able to put that number into even more perspective. "When you think that Mr. Lewis has 25 officers for an entire state and we have 54 officers in four square miles, you see what they are working up against," Thoesen said.
Because seven or eight of those 25 deputies are used for counter terrorism activity, Husch said the number of active agents for the district is more like 17. "They are stretched to the limit," Husch said. "I was shocked at how little they have."
Herndon police cannot enforce federal law, but Husch is hopeful that the Herndon police may someday be able to do more than the current law allows. In some jurisdictions, Husch said, the bureau has taken a few officers through an INS-sponsored school. After eight weeks, the local officers can enforce federal law if coordinated through the bureau.
Husch also expressed enthusiasm about a coordinated effort to ferret out employers who break federal law while employing legal and illegal workers. "The police will provide information to the bureau and the bureau can then talk with the company," Husch said.
Summers said he wouldn't have officers staked out across the street, but he would send BICE information when it was warranted.
In the opinion of the town attorney, however, it would take special legislation from the General Assembly for a local police officer to enforce federal law.
The meeting helped open eyes and decrease expectations for a quick fix, the mayor said. "Dennis [Husch] has always been passionate in trying to honor the laws of the land and I think he is now cognizant of the lack of resources to do that. From his viewpoint he can't see spending taxpayer money to support illegal aliens, and I can appreciate that," Thoesen said. "My viewpoint has always been that they are not all illegal aliens and if you punish one then you punish them all. Some of those folks need help to get up on the economic ladder."
<b>THE MAYOR SAID</b> the meeting was held, in part, to create, "clarity for a frustrated public who wants to know why illegal aliens are standing on the street corner looking for work."
After meeting with the federal agents, it became clear to Thoesen that the problem, and any potential solution, is even more difficult than first thought. "We can't do it as a community, we're not authorized to do it and the Federal government doesn't have the resources to do anything about," Thoesen said. "The council is limited in its abilities and we've been struggling with how to tackle this thing, and its not easy."
Despite the lack of any clear answers, the mayor said he left the meeting feeling hopeful, not discouraged.
"I think we can turn this in to a positive, while we support our legal aliens that we would have a memo of understanding perhaps with the BICE so when we have an criminal alien or an abusive employer, we can call them to come and investigate."
Thoesen said he hopes the news of the federal government's limitations "will calm people down."
"We are not about to reverse this situation very rapidly," Thoesen said. "In the last 20 years, America has had a relatively open immigration policy, so it is not going to take weeks, either. It is going to take some time."