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41 Arrested in First Month Of Stricter Immigration Policy

Nearly 100 people have been questioned about their citizenship status in Prince William County since a crackdown on illegal immigration went into effect a month ago, Police Chief Charlie T. Deane told supervisors yesterday.

Most of the checks have occurred during traffic stops and calls for service, Deane said. Forty-one of the 89 people whom officers questioned were arrested on various charges and taken to the county’s adult detention center.

Deane’s report was the first that the Board of County Supervisors has received about the stepped-up enforcement since it began March 3.

The board voted in the fall to direct officers to check the residency status of crime suspects who they think might be in the country illegally. Many in the immigrant community have said they fear that police will use the program to profile Latino residents.

In an interview, Deane said he would offer no judgment about how well the measures are working.

Board Chairman Corey A. Stewart (R-At Large) said, “I was pleasantly surprised by the numbers. That’s pretty good. It’s a lot more than expected.” But, he said, “it’s a bit early to fully judge the police portion of the program.”

Prince William has detained almost 700 people since July, when the county began implementing federal immigration laws. Immigration and Customs Enforcement is supposed to pick up detainees within 72 hours, but there has been a two- to three-week lag time, said Prince William Police Maj. Peter Meletis.

“In order for it to work inside the jail, ICE has to do its part,” said Meletis, superintendent of the jail. “They don’t have the budget or manpower to keep up with the amount of people we are detaining.”

Mark X. McGraw, deputy special agent of the Washington field office for ICE, said the agency can’t handle the influx of arrested suspects.

“We’ve gotten ahead of ourselves,” he said. “But we are doing the best we can. We never expected that to happen as fast as it did.” Jail officials could not provide the outcomes of the cases of the 41 people arrested.

Deane’s briefing came a few days after Stewart had tried to prevent the chief from holding a public meeting with Mexican consul Enrique Escorza. Stewart had said that Deane should not meet with officials of foreign governments.

Deane held the meeting Thursday, saying that the board had directed him to reach out to the community as police officers began enforcing laws directed at detaining illegal immigrants.

The meeting was consistent with the police department’s public outreach efforts, Deane said yesterday.

“That meeting was not unprecedented,” he said.

Patric Quinn, president of the Police Association of Prince William County, said association members back the chief in regard to the meeting with Escorza. Stewart should have carefully considered the chief’s actions before “publicly undermining him,” Quinn told the board yesterday. “Proper protocol was followed. He is simply carrying out your directive.”

Stewart said he felt no need to apologize. “I never said anything bad about the chief,” he said. “He satisfactorily answered my questions, and I’m convinced now there was nothing wrong with the meeting.”

Former supervisor Hilda M. Barg defended the chief to the board.

“Chief Charlie Deane is a man of integrity who has kept his promise to the people of this community . . . by holding public meetings and removing the hatred and the fear,” she said to Stewart. “I’m appalled that you have publicly attacked the chief.”

Stewart later said: “That’s Hilda. That’s what I expect her to say. She’s never been a fan.”