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Immigration Buck Stops Where?

Federal, state and county officials meet with mayor to discuss immigration.

Mayor Michael O'Reilly held a meeting with federal, state and local officials last week to discuss resident concerns about illegal immigration.

Because the officials were not a part of the day-labor public hearings one month earlier, O'Reilly updated them on the debates that consumed the town for more than two months.

U.S. Rep. Frank Wolf (R-10), state Sen. Janet Howell (D-32), Del. Tom Rust (R-86), Supervisor Joan DuBois (R-Dranesville), a representative from Board of Supervisors chairman Gerry Connolly's (D) office and David Ellis, neighborhood community building coordinator for Fairfax County, attended the meeting with O'Reilly.

"It is important for local elected officials to have the opportunity to meet with our congressman and have a face-to-face," said O'Reilly about why he called the meeting. "We let him know what was happening at the local level."

During the meeting O'Reilly addressed the complications council faced while trying to determine if the site should be approved or denied. Council members only have the legal authority to deal with land use issues, he said. Because many citizens felt the council should deny the application because of national immigration issues, council members had to continually remind residents that national immigration issues were out of their jurisdictional control.

"He has been very helpful to our community in relation to gang issues," said O'Reilly about Wolf's involvement in Herndon. "And we wanted to make sure he was aware of our immigration issues."

Aware of the application before the town, during the public hearing process Wolf did not comment about what he felt the council should do, saying it was not his place to get involved with a local land-use issue.

At a public meeting held before the Planning Commission hearings, Rust said the same thing, that he was not in the position to tell a local government how to decide a local land-use issue.

IN A LETTER SENT to O'Reilly after the meeting, Wolf reinforced what was beginning to be done at the federal level to address the growing number of undocumented citizens coming across the country's borders.

"The congressional leadership is working on comprehensive immigration reform legislation," he said in the letter, "but recovery efforts from hurricane Katrina and the Senate's Supreme Court Justice confirmation hearing have further complicated the timing."

It is unclear when Congress will hear varying legislative packages on immigration reform, but Wolf is "hopeful that meaningful reform will be enacted before Congress adjourns for the year," he said.

During the meeting, O'Reilly told Wolf in the long run he did not care what legislation was approved as long as something was being done to help local jurisdictions like Herndon.

"We wanted to reinforce to him how important it was to us to get something moving in Congress," he said. "He said he is committed to doing something that will have a positive impact on our community."

Regardless of its recent shift from immigration reform legislation to rebuilding the Gulf Coast, Congress must make it a priority to fix the growing illegal immigration problem, said Wolf.

"In May, Congress cleared, with my support, and the president signed into law, a major step to strengthen immigration policy and border security," he said in his letter.

This step was the REAL ID Act, aimed at preventing another 9/11-type attack from occurring through state identification and driver's license provisions.

"Under this new law," he said, "states will have to require proof of lawful presence in the U.S. before issuing drivers' licenses."

The law also strengthens border security along the California-Mexico border so "law-abiding Americans are better protected from terrorists, drug smugglers, alien gangs and violent criminals seeking to operate here," he said. The completion of a 14-mile border fence inland from the Pacific Ocean in San Diego is also a part of the law.

OTHER IMMIGRATION REFORM items before Congress that Wolf is involved with include his cosponsorship of HR 98.

This legislation proposes the Social Security Administration be required to issue social security cards that contain a photo of the cardholder on the card as well as an encrypted electronic identification strip. Each strip would be different and specific for the cardholder.

U.S. citizens and legal immigrants would be required to present the card only when seeking new employment in the country, said Wolf.

The technology is also proposed to feed into an Employment Eligibility database run by the Department of Homeland Security for information relating to the job applicant's true identity and legal status. If an employer knowingly hires an undocumented citizen who does not pass the Eligibility Employment database, they could face a $50,000 fine, according to Wolf. The proposed legislation would also make the hiring of known undocumented citizens a federal offense punishable by up to five years in prison per count.

The legislation is still pending in several House committees.

Enclosed in his letter to O'Reilly, Wolf also included an Aug. 10 letter he sent to President George W. Bush regarding illegal immigration.

"I can tell you that this is an issue I hear about most often from the people I represent," Wolf wrote. "I urge you to take the lead in engaging your administration on this issue when the congressional session resumes in September. Congress has taken some steps already this year, but a comprehensive solution is needed ... Time is becoming critical."