City policy on immigration status needs another look

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Kerry's blog
The Virginian-Pilot
© April 24, 2007

And we thought they were afraid of being caught.

Illegal immigrants, that is.

Until a few weeks ago, many of us believed that those illegally in the United States were tiptoeing in society's shadows, fearful of drawing attention to themselves, lest they be deported.

We figured they were nervously glancing over their shoulders, terrified of informants, immigration officials and, most of all, the police.

How naive.

After the senseless deaths of two Beach teenagers in March, allegedly caused by a drunken driver who admits he's here illegally, we learned that Virginia Beach has a longstanding "don't-ask-don't-tell" policy toward illegals who have not committed a felony.

Who knew?

Actually, the illegal immigrant community knew. Law-abiding citizens did not.

And illegal immigrants seem to enjoy the same breaks and second chances as citizens.

Alfredo Ramos, the man accused of killing Alison Kunhardt and Tessa Tranchant the night of March 30, knew first hand that breaking minor laws would not end with a trip back to Mexico. According to news reports, he had "three prior alcohol-related convictions but had never been considered for deportation."

Shoot, a first-time DUI in Chesapeake resulted in a suspended jail sentence.

While other cities seem merely unconcerned with immigration status, it's the Beach that has an official we-don't-care policy toward violators.

Two years ago, Police Chief Jake Jacocks Jr. decreed that Beach police officers couldn't ask suspects about their immigration status unless they were charged with a serious crime or involved in gang activity or terrorism.

So suspects accused of minor infractions - even those who spoke little English, such as Ramos - couldn't be asked how they got here. Cops ought to be free to ask any non-English-speaking offenders whether they're legal.

There's also a worry that illegal immigrants will be reluctant to go to the cops if they have to reveal their status. That's legitimate. But it's the risk they took when they crossed the border illegally.

The bigger issue seems to be disgust with Washington.

If the feds don't care, why should cities?

Fact is, Americans care.

And anger over the Beach policy appears to be giving the chief heartburn.

Pilot reporter Jon Frank reported Sunday that Jacocks acknowledged "isolated" disagreement with his don't-ask-don't-tell policy.


Not the adjective I'd use.

Jacocks is reconsidering his rule. The chief talked last week with community groups and Hispanics. On Monday, he met with representatives of the federal immigration agency.

Yet his policy remains in place.

We know the feds do little about illegal immigration. We also know local police departments have neither the money nor the authority to detain and deport offenders.

No one's asking Jacocks' officers to do that.

It costs nothing to ask a suspect about immigration status when he or she is ticketed or arrested. And it wouldn't cost much to notify the feds when an illegal is found.

That wouldn't end the influx of illegal immigrants, but it's a start.

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