From the Washington Post July 18, 2010
The largest immigrant detention center in the mid-Atlantic will soon open in Prince Edward County, an effort to accommodate Virginia’s unprecedented surge in detentions of illegal immigrants picked up on criminal charges.
The $21 million, privately run center will house up to 584 immigrant detainees when it opens its doors. Over the next year, it might grow to hold 1,000 prisoners, most of them snagged by the federal government’s growing Secure Communities program, which aims to find and deport criminal illegal immigrants.
Last month, Virginia became the second state, after Delaware, to implement the program statewide, requiring jails and prisons to screen prisoners by immigration status and check their fingerprints against the country’s immigration database.
With three months left in the fiscal year, the number of illegal immigrants with criminal convictions detained in Virginia and the District has increased by 50 percent from last year’s total, to 2,414. Those numbers are expected to increase now that the program is being implemented statewide.
The new facility “is mostly here to address the impact of Secure Communities,” said Robert Helwig, assistant director of Immigration and Customs Enforcement. “We do anticipate a surge in detainees.”
The immigration debate has grown increasingly polarized, and the Secure Communities program has become a symbol of that division. John T. Morton, head of ICE, calls it the agency’s attempt to “secure the nation and protect public safety.” But many immigrant advocates, including Enid Gonzalez, a lawyer at CASA of Maryland, say the program “claims to keep violent criminals off the streets, but instead it’s just incarcerating innocent busboys.”
There’s one point on which experts across the spectrum agree: Without additional detention space, the program cannot function. ICE has detained fewer than one-quarter of the immigrants identified by Secure Communities, a range of suspected criminals facing charges as varied as misdemeanors and murder.
“The Obama administration can’t expect to increase enforcement measures without increasing detention capacity,” said Jessica Vaughan, director of policy studies at the Center for Immigration Studies
Prince Edward County is sure to appreciate the 300 jobs that will come to the county. It only makes sense that those states using the Secure Communities program will need a place to house criminal illegal immigrants rather than putting them in already overcrowded local detention centers. If we want to take violent criminals off the street, we must be able to detain them rather than have our criminal justice system merely serve as a revolving door.
If Virginia has implemented the Secure Communities program, how does it differ from our 287g program? Do we use both? Secure Communities seems to have tiptoed in without a great deal of notice. Contributors, what do you know about Virginia implementing this program?
From the June 21, 2010 Washington Post: (background)
Immigration status check in Va. arrests
A new system that lets local law enforcement check fingerprints of people who are arrested against immigration records maintained by the Department of Homeland Security is now in use in every county in Virginia, according to a joint release by the Attorney General’s office and the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).
Previously, authorities could check fingerprints against the FBI’s criminal history database. But the new “Secure Communities” program lets them check DHS records and automatically alerts ICE to those with immigration violations. According to a release, ICE will prioritize enforcement for those who are convicted of major drug offenses, murder, rape and kidnapping.
Counting Virginia’s participation, the program is now available in 336 jurisdictions in 22 states and will be available nationally by 2013.
“This information sharing enables criminal aliens to be identified at the time they are booked in a jail anywhere in Virginia, and those convicted of serious crimes can be prioritized for deportation after serving their sentences,” Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli (R) said in a statement.