Police Prepare for Immigration Enforcement Training

Police Prepare for Immigration Enforcement Training

Guidelines to be drafted on how immigration authority will be used.

The Herndon Police Department will meet this month with senior agents of United States Immigration and Customs and Enforcement to discuss the guidelines for how immigration enforcement authority will be utilized in trained officers, shaping the future of local law enforcement's interaction with Herndon's immigrant population.

The meetings come after ICE approved Herndon's request for the specialized training of local personnel to enforce some federal immigration authorities last week, known as "287(g)" training for the specific section that references it in the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1996.

Herndon law enforcement officials will begin working with senior ICE agents to outline the circumstances under which the authority to initiate deportation proceedings of people found to be living illegally in the United States will be used by members of the Herndon Police Department.

After a mutually acceptable agreement is drafted between the Herndon Police Department and ICE authorities, it will be sent to Herndon's Town Council for public hearing and a vote of approval. While there is currently no timetable set for the drafting of the agreement, once it has been accepted by both Herndon and ICE, police officers who volunteer for the training will undergo five weeks of full-time, locally-based federal courses to achieve certification before they begin enforcement.

After the training is complete, ICE-certified officers will then have local and instant access to the ICE computer database, of which police can enter the fingerprints of people suspected of being in the country illegally to determine their legal status, according to ICE officials.

As of Jan. 8, there were eight law enforcement agencies in the United States with active 287(g) agreements with ICE. Herndon joined the avalanche of law enforcement groups requesting the training in recent months, associating with the 16 presently in the drafting process and the 26 other agencies with requests pending review, according to ICE.

THE TRAINING had been sought as a way of giving police more flexibility in removing dangerous and violent criminals who are not authorized to be in the United States.

"When ICE described [the training] to us initially, we were going to use it to go after illegal immigrants who are dangerous criminals," said Herndon Chief of Police Toussaint Summers. "In the end, this will be for the worst of the worst, the most dangerous criminals who happen to be illegal aliens."

But the authority under which police can detain people with unauthorized citizenship status is entirely up to the needs and the limits of available resources for a community, according to Mike Gilhooly, spokesperson for ICE.

Gilhooly refused to address Herndon's possible training and the pending agreement specifically.

"In general, our folks sit down with other agencies and we figure out what those agencies would want," Gilhooly said. "Whether those needs be based on a crime task force or jail personnel ... however the [agreement] is worked out within their agency is how the law enforcement authority will be used."

"It's up to the municipality and the agency and our officers to work out the parameters of how their duties will be defined."

THOSE DUTIES, Gilhooly said, can essentially be initiated by any ICE-certified police officer doing a criminal investigation into any violation. And the investigations into those violations don't necessarily need to be solely for violent crimes.

"When [ICE-certified police officers] are doing a criminal investigation involving someone who is a foreign national, they'll be able to access our database to determine ... their status of being in the country," he said. "If they're under investigation for a crime and it's found during the course of that investigation that they are illegally here ... they can begin deportation proceedings."

Those crimes could also include arrests for such things as failure to produce a valid drivers license, he added.

But this does not necessarily mean that Herndon's potential authority will stretch this far. The request for the training which was approved last week by ICE shows that the Town of Herndon specifically requested the training to be used to combat "dangerous illegal aliens who have committed serious crimes and are subject to deportation."

The letter also makes reference to officers and detectives who are part of the Northern Virginia Regional Gang Task Force as prime candidates for the training, identifying only those criminal illegal immigrants "who pose a public safety risk to the citizens of the Town of Herndon," as its objective target.

OTHER AGENCIES who have requested the 287(g) training have pushed for more authority and frequency of citizenship status checks.

In Alabama, the 60 ICE-certified state troopers who patrol the state's highways do a preliminary check on the legal status of anyone they detain, even for such moving violations as improper lane usage and speeding, according to Dorris Teague, spokesperson for the Alabama Department of Public Safety.

"Our ICE-trained troopers verify the immigration status of all individuals they stop or question," Teague said. "They do the same checks on anyone they pull over."

Since their agreement went into affect with ICE in late 2003, Alabama State Troopers have initiated deportation procedures on more than 200 people suspected of being in the country without proper authorization, she added.

The Mecklenburg County Sheriff's Office in North Carolina has used their 287(g) training in their county jails to identify convicted criminals who are in the country illegally to be removed upon completion of their sentences. Since beginning the program in February, 2006, through October deputies had initiated deportation procedures on 853 inmates, according to the agency's Web site.

ICE, operating on the information provided from the deputies will place a detainer on any individual found to be an illegal immigrant serving time for a conviction, so that at the completion of his or her sentence, that person is removed to their home country. This practice is carried out throughout the country, according to ICE officials.

A BROAD SET of parameters is something that Herndon Vice Mayor Dennis Husch said he wants to see come out of the town's agreement with ICE.

"My own notions are to write ... as much authority into the agreement as the town can have and apply that with the realities of what is going on in Herndon," Husch said.

He added that he did not support just focusing on individuals arrested for serious, violent offenses. "I wouldn't be inclined to support something that narrow," Husch said.

Calls for comment made to Herndon Mayor Steve DeBenedittis were not returned at press time.

Any consideration of granting the authority to enforce federal immigration law to local police officers must take into full account the amount of resources available to the Town of Herndon, said council member Harlon Reece.

"That's part of the difficulty of this thing, is that we don't have a jail, so where are we going to put all these people?" Reece said. "It's not clear to me that if we start arresting people for no [driver's] license or drunk in public that we will have a place that is going to take them all."

Those people who have had deportation procedures initiated, Reece noted, would be afforded the right of due process of law, which could put them in temporary custody in local facilities for extended periods of time.

"I know that there have been people in the town and in the council that were upset ... that this authority would only apply to the felons," Reece said. "But it was made clear to me that this is only going to apply to the dangerous criminals."

Summers agreed, reiterating that the authority will only relate to those violent criminals specifically mentioned in the ICE-approved request.

But the final parameters will depend on what is drafted over the course of the next several weeks, Reece said.

"It's all very cloudy right now," he said, "we're going to have to wait and see the [agreement]."