Virginia AG Credits Local, State Officials with Capturing Sex Offenders in Illegal Immigration Crackdown

Kevin Mooney, CNSNews (Cybercast News Services), November 18, 2008

Violent sex offenders who are also illegal aliens in Virginia were identified, located, and deported thanks to a well-coordinated joint operation earlier this year involving both state and federal officials.

The effort should serve as a model for immigration enforcement throughout the United States, Bob McDonnell, Virginia’s Republican attorney general, told CNSNews.com in an exclusive interview.

“Operation Cold Play” made it possible for the U.S. Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agency to place 171 convicted criminal alien sex offenders into deportation proceedings thanks in large part to local and state involvement in the investigation, McDonnell explained in an email.

After examining the birthplace of each offender in Virginia’s sex offender registry, state police shared the information with ICE agents, who then cross-checked the information with their own databases.

The joint effort between Virginia and ICE was part of a larger federal initiative called Operation Predator, which was launched in 2003 for the purpose of targeting child pornographers, human traffickers and smugglers.

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McDonnell favors making changes to state law that would allow Virginia to take better advantage of a little-known provision in federal law that allows for local and state officials to assume a larger role in the enforcement of immigration laws.

This stance puts him at odds with Virginia’s Democratic governor, Tim Kaine.

Section 287 (g) of the Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act authorizes the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and its ICE division to enter into partnerships with state and local law enforcement agencies.

That provision, which became effective in 1996, allows participating officers on the local and state level to operate as federal immigration agents. The program can be applied and shaped in a variety of ways depending upon local prerogatives.

In Alabama, for instance, state troopers work with motor vehicle licensing stations to verify the immigration status of foreign nationals. Other localities that have entered into agreements with ICE have utilized the program in their prison system. The Mecklenburg County Sheriff’s Office in North Carolina, for instance, received its 287(g) authorization in February 2006.

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There is also a “task force” component to the 287(g) that enables local law enforcement officers to work in the field alongside federal agents. Officers who have the task force authorization, for instance, can target and arrest illegal aliens who participate in larger criminal enterprises that typically involve drug trafficking and gang activity.

At this point in Virginia, 287(g) has been implemented only on a local basis in the Prince William County jail system, and the governor’s approval is needed before state agencies can get involved.

“I have been very vocal in repeatedly calling on Governor Kaine to approve 287(g) authority for the Virginia State Police, Department of Corrections, and the Department of Motor Vehicles,” McDonnell said in his statement to CNSNews.com.

“He has repeatedly refused to do so. I believe that allowing the state police and other agencies to become 287(g)-certified would enable state and local law enforcement to maximize limited resources,” McDonnell added.

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Gordon Hickey, a spokesman for Kaine, told CNSNews.com that the governor continues to have misgivings about asking state police officers to assume federal burdens that apparently will detract from their primary responsibilities.

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