July 13, 2009 9:39 AM

Police Change Likely To Trim Jail Population

By Jeremy Hunt

Harrisonburg Mayor Kai Degner (left) discusses immigration issues with VIP Coalition's Gustavo Maldonado (right) and interpreter Patrick Lincoln of The People United. The get-together occurred at Pueblo Grande restaurant during an immigrant solidarity event on Sunday.

HARRISONBURG - A change to a federal program that the Rockingham County Sheriff's Office participates in may reduce the number of illegal immigrants being held at the county jail.

Named for the section of the code in which it's found, the 287 (g) program allows local governments to enforce federal immigration laws with the assistance of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents.

The revised program, announced Friday, reserves detainment and deportation of illegal immigrants to those convicted of serious criminal offenses.

ICE has standardized the program to provide "uniform policies" for enforcing the law, according to a statement from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.

DHS Secretary Janet Napolitano said in the statement that it "promotes consistency across the board to ensure that all of our state and local law enforcement partners are using the same standards in implementing" the program.

The partnership between local and federal law enforcement agencies came up Sunday during a meeting of local immigrants and advocacy groups on issues facing foreign-born residents.

Immigrants' rights advocates say the program - even with the revised policy - promotes racial profiling and creates fear in immigrant communities.

Advocates also are concerned that the program still might not clearly define how and when officers may use their arrest authority.

As far as Rockingham County Sheriff Don Farley is concerned, the revisions won't change how his deputies enforce the law.

Farley said he's seen a draft of the new agreement, but he hasn't received a final copy.

The sheriff's office began participating in 287 (g) in August 2007.

Currently, deputies process offenders at the Rockingham County Jail and determine whether or not they are legal residents of the United States. Information may then be forwarded to federal immigration agents, who decide whether to move forward with deportation proceedings, Farley said.

Those procedures would still be followed, Farley said, and federal immigration officials would still have the final say.

"We will still be doing what we've done for the last two years," he said, adding that illegal immigrants who don't break any other laws won't be arrested based on their status.

As a result of the new standards, fewer illegal immigrants would be held for deportation hearings, Farley said, which would reduce the number of inmates at the jail.


Patrick Lincoln, an organizer with The People United who helped set up Sunday's meeting, said he's skeptical the changes will have a significant impact.

Lincoln says there is still the potential for people to be deported for minor offenses.

"It's hard to say exactly how much it's going to change it," he said Sunday. "I don't know how there would be any kind of oversight or making sure folks were only picked up for [serious] criminal charges."

Contact Jeremy Hunt at jhunt@dnronline.com

http://www.dnronline.com/news_details.p ... 168&CHID=1