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Votes

Board Struggles with Immigration

Board considers various angles but has limited legal authority.

The Board of Supervisors held a committee of the whole last Thursday to discuss ways that the county might curb illegal immigration, but this is an area in which local governments have little legal power.

Perhaps the most significant outcome of the meeting was a decision to forward to the Dec. 4 business meeting a motion to start a pilot program that would more aggressively address overcrowded homes and related issues in areas that have been the subject of repeated zoning complaints. The "hot spots" proposed by county staff were North Argonne Avenue and Williamsburg Road, in the Sterling Park area, where there is also a high concentration of immigrants.

ZONING ADMINISTRATOR Linda Artman presented the board with four options for taking a more aggressive approach to zoning enforcement. The method recommended by county staff included the pursuit of overcrowding violations, as well as other infractions such as residential businesses, structures built without permits and the improper placement of inoperable or commercial vehicles.

Under this plan, staff would promote a complaint hotline in the community and would revisit properties that had previously been in violation, even after the problem had been resolved. The six-month pilot would be funded by the Zoning Department’s existing budget and would help staff "gauge results and the resources needed to run a proactive program," said Artman.

Supervisor Eugene Delgaudio (R-Sterling) made a motion in support of the most aggressive option proposed but could not get a second. Under this plan, the board would adopt portions of the Property Maintenance Code, ensuring the upkeep of a property’s exterior, which county staff would enforce. Implementing such a program on a full scale, said Artman, would require four additional full-time employees at a cost of $336,000.

"We need to kind of ease into this in the community," said Chairman Scott York (I), and he warned that there would be resistance to spending so much on staff.

Supervisor Jim Burton (I-Blue Ridge) moved that the staff recommendation be forwarded to the Dec. 4 meeting for a vote, and Supervisor Bruce Tulloch (R-Potomac) asked if staff could not make some outreach efforts toward homeowners’ associations in order to drum up community involvement without cutting short the length of the pilot program. He was told that this would be feasible.

The amended motion passed unanimously, with Supervisors Mick Staton and Jim Clem absent. "I’ll vote yes, because I see where the tenor of this board is going this work session," said Delgaudio, but he said he planned to bring up the subject of funding the program at a later date.

A MOTION TO send a proposal to the Dec. 4 meeting that would add language to county contracts regarding the employment of illegal immigrants passed unanimously with Clem absent. The added clause would require the contracted company to certify that it would not violate immigration laws while carrying out the contract. If the county found, in the course of business, that the contractor was, in fact, knowingly employing an illegal immigrant, the company would have to correct the situation or be found in breach of contract.

Burton pointed out that the addition would not allow the county to do much that it can’t do already. "Is this just window dressing?" he asked.

County attorney Jack Roberts agreed that the addition "doesn’t do a whole lot" as far as allowing proactive enforcement. "But it certainly puts people on notice that we expect them to obey the law."

"Right," said Delgaudio. "We’re looking to go on record that we are looking for cooperation."

COMMISSIONER OF REVENUE Bob Wertz reported to the board that his office could not revoke a business license, nor could it double tax or otherwise penalize a person who was not in the country legally. "I cannot, by law, withhold a business license from someone who is not legally present," he said. Because Virginia operates under the Dillon Rule, Wertz added, its localities can only set tax rates based on business activity.

However, he said his office had set up a new hotline people could use to report suspected unlicensed businesses and was establishing an online portal for the same purpose. Wertz went on to say that the commissioner’s office might be able to contract with the company that runs background checks on prospective county employees, in order that the company could verify the legal status of those who apply for a county business license. The office could then alert the appropriate officials when an applicant’s status could not be identified. He added, though, that the office’s limited means would prevent it from checking on anyone but sole proprietors.

Tulloch instructed him to find out whether this would violate equal protection rights.

THE BOARD ALSO voted to place on the Dec. 4 agenda the possibility of adding an item to its list of requests for the Virginia General Assembly. The request would be that local governments be granted the power to deny building permits and business licenses.

The last item to come to a vote regarded the verification of legal presence for child-care programs. Diane Ryburn, director of Parks, Recreation and Community Services, told the board that its child-care programs, consisting of preschool and after-school programs for elementary- and middle-school students, already required parents to verify their children’s identity. Through this process, she said, the department had been presented with a U.S. birth certificate or U.S. passport for 83 percent of the children currently enrolled in its programs. The process of verifying the other children’s legal status would be costly.

Supervisor Lori Waters (R-Broad Run) moved that the board forward to the next meeting the proposal that all parents who do not present documentation indicating citizenship be required to certify in writing that their child is legally present. She said she wanted priority to be given to children whose status was known.

"I think the system is working just fine as it is," said Burton. "I don’t want to see a single one of them turned back out onto the streets."

The motion passed with Burton and Supervisor Sally Kurtz (D-Catoctin) voting against it and Clem and Staton absent.