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Council Mulls Immigration Enforcement Agreement

Council members negotiate expansion of training-eligible officers to include regular operations.

The Town Council has been presented with a draft agreement with U.S. Immigration & Customs Enforcement to provide some federal immigration enforcement training and authority to officers of the Herndon Police Department. If the agreement is approved by council later this month, the town will be the first in the nation to enter into an agreement with the federal agency.

The draft agreement, negotiated over the course of the last two to three weeks with ICE representatives by Herndon town attorney Richard Kaufman and Herndon Police Chief Toussaint Summers, outlines which officers can undergo the training and when they would be able to enforce federal immigration laws. If approved, ICE will provide training for as many as seven police officers in an initial class, with those officers gaining the authority to initiate deportation proceedings for individuals associated with certain criminal activity who are found to be in the country illegally.

The Herndon Police Department is already setting up provisions for selected officers who will attend the full-time five-week class. Under the draft agreement it will be provided in Northern Virginia, with the Herndon Police picking up the salaries and transportation of its officers while ICE pays for instructors and training materials.

Before these officers can be trained, the agreement will be discussed at a March 14 public hearing, where the mayor and town council members will vote on whether or not to proceed or hold off on the decision until a following council public hearing.

LOCAL OFFICERS eligible for the training can come from any of five Herndon Police Department units, including the Violent Fugitive Apprehension Squad, the Criminal Investigation Section, the Anti-Gang Unit, the Drug Enforcement Unit and the Operations Unit, according to the draft agreement. The inclusion of the operations unit, which consists of the "on the ground" police officers assigned to general patrols and crime prevention was a last minute expansion of the training-eligible units that was included at the request of some town council members, according to council member Bill Tirrell.

The authority to initiate deportation proceedings is activated when an ICE-trained Herndon police officer is involved in investigations of illegal narcotics trafficking, organized criminal activities and gang activities, as well as high-risk violent felons, according to the draft agreement. Basic HPD operations officers can initiate deportation proceedings for people found to be illegally present in the country during the investigation of more serious "group A" offenses like larceny, credit card fraud, sexual assault and prostitution, as well as the "group B" crime of driving under the influence.

If approved, ICE-trained officers will be supervised by and supported by local ICE representatives, the agreement read. Anyone convicted of a crime who is found in the course of investigations to be illegally present in the United States will be removed following the outset of his or her legally-mandated detention. All costs for pre-deportation detention and physical removal of illegal immigrants will be covered or reimbursed by ICE, it continued.

THIS AUTHORITY WILL not pertain to individuals apprehended for operating a vehicle without a license, drunk in public or violation of the local anti-solicitation ordinance, among other crimes, however if a person known to be an illegal immigrant is found to be repeatedly apprehended for similar crimes, ICE-trained officers can meet with ICE supervisors to discuss possible deportation, according to Kaufman.

"This agreement is not going to make it possible to just deport people on minor traffic or ordinance violations," he said. "But we're always monitoring people who are suspected of being in the country illegally … ICE will just have to make the decision at that point."

Repeat offenders might be good reason for speaking with Virginia-based ICE supervisors about possible initiation of deportation, Kaufman added.

"Let's say somebody had 15 no operator's license violations and five to six DUI's and had accumulated any number of minor offenses and that person were an illegal alien," he said. "That would be cause for the Town of Herndon to talk with ICE to see what we could do about possible removal proceedings."

FOR HERNDON MAYOR Steve DeBenedittis, who was elected last spring partially for a stance of getting tough on illegal immigration, the training agreement is a step in the right direction for Herndon.

"I think it just gives our officers all the more tools to make our community as safe as possible," DeBenedittis said. "I think we've made good progress and I look forward to hearing what the community says," in upcoming public hearings about the draft agreement.

While Tirrell said that he would have liked to have seen even more expansion of the authority to include other crimes, what was decided upon was acceptable given the amount of resources available and the intentions of ICE. No operator's license, a traffic misdemeanor given to people operating a vehicle without proper license, has been commonly cited as a crime associated with illegal immigrants, who do not have the ability to be legally issued a license in the United States.

"I think that we're getting as much as we can reasonably get in this agreement," Tirrell said. "If we can get the [no operator's license violations] included, then the next thing you know someone's going to want public urination added to that, and it will go on … and the reality is that ICE isn't prepared to commit those kinds of resources."

DeBenedittis said that he would have liked to have seen some crimes included, but that he is optimistic that the state will get tougher on enforcement of the no operator's license in the near future.

The agreement is likely to face a highly favorable council. Herndon Town Council member Harlon Reece, who had initially voted against requesting the training because he said he hadn't heard enough input from town residents, said that he is "inclined to support" the new draft agreement, contingent on resident comments. Reece added that he was satisfied with the types of crimes that would activate the authority in the agreement.

"If we were going to utilize this agreement to just start rounding up people for minor things, it would be less productive … because we will be using a large amount of local resources to do this," Reece said. "I know there were some people who wanted that, but we have to deal with the reality of what we have available here."

Tirrell added that it will take time to determine how successful this program might be, if it is approved by the council.

"Success will be determined after the officers have been trained and we start getting some feedback," he said. "Success can only be measured by how well we achieve our objective and that's getting the bad guys off the street."