Following months of strong opposition to using the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) training program in the county, Sheriff Stephen O. Simpson surprised everyone by telling the Board of Supervisors he could support the program.
"I was going to tell you initially why we would not be moving forward with it and the reasons, but over the past few weeks those [reasons] have shifted," Simpson told the board at its Tuesday, May 1, business meeting.
Simpson told the board that he had received a phone call from ICE representatives the morning of May 1. They told him all federal inmates would be removed from Loudoun prisons within 72 hours and they would pay overtime to any deputies who had to transfer inmates to other jails. Originally, participation in the program would have required the county to hold convicted illegal immigrants as they awaited deportation.
"My hang up had always been the jail and the cost that would be passed on to the taxpayers," Simpson said.
In order to have room for the federal inmates, the county had to move local inmates to another jail, often transported by deputies working overtime. Simpson told the board that while the federal agency does reimburse the county for housing the federal inmates, it does not pay for the cost of moving the local inmates. It costs the county between $50 and $75 per day to house inmates in other facilities.
"If they are willing to remove those strings, I would be willing to enter into an agreement with them," Simpson said.
SIMPSON SAID he was still waiting to receive something from ICE representatives in writing before he committed to the program, but if that came he saw no problem with starting the training.
Under the program, some county deputies would receive training, which would allow them to initiate deportation proceedings on criminal illegal immigrants.
"I like the thought of free training and I like the thought in getting some of our guys involved in the gang task force," Simpson said. Simpson said he hopes to get training for members of the county’s gang unit as well as deputies who work in the intake of inmates at the jail.
IN ADDITION to issues of overtime and jail space, Simpson has often said the ICE program would duplicate efforts already being used in the county. Due to two ICE agents living in Loudoun, the Sheriff’s Office has had a good working relationship with the agency and has been able to remove federal inmates from the county’s jail quickly. So far the county has deported 48 criminal illegal immigrants, with a dozen more in process, Simpson said.
By entering into an official relationship with ICE, however, Simpson said the county will be able to streamline the process.
"[Deputies] will be able to call into ICE directly and check legal status," he said. "Rather than contact the ICE agents. So far it has been working because we have access. But as the county grows, the need will increase and this way we will be ahead of the curve."
OVERALL, THE BOARD supported the idea of entering into a relationship with ICE, only questioning Simpson to ensure the comprehensiveness of the program.
Supervisor Lori Waters (R-Broad Run) asked Simpson about the process of verifying the immigration status of those pulled over on moving traffic violation, dealing with similar names and ensuring the correct identity of a person.
"I don’t want someone to get caught up in it that is a legitimate resident here and has been a victim of a crime themselves," Waters said. "We want to make sure we don’t perpetrate a crime against someone who is innocent."
Supervisor Eugene Delgaudio (R-Sterling), who has long been a supporter of the ICE program, said he was very pleased to hear that the cost issues had been settled.
"I think this is a very popular issue with the public," he said. "This has never been for me an illegal immigration issue; it has been a crime issue."
SIMPSON ONCE AGAIN cautioned the board that the ICE program would not deal with all illegal immigrants, only those who are convicted criminals, gang members or those who have been deported previously.
"It is not going to solve the immigration issue," he said. "Unless there is some other violent offense, ICE won’t take them."
While Simpson's announcement to the board came a week after both his Republican and Democratic challengers, Greg Ahleman and Michael George, respectively, gave their public support to the program, Simpson said he has not "flip-flopped" on the issue.
"I have proceeded very cautiously with this, always keeping in mind the best interests of the community," he said. "I’ve always agreed with the program and what it does. The terms were what kept me away."