McDonnell Wants Troopers Deputized to Check Stopped Drivers’ Immigration Status

Anita Kumar, Carol Morello, and Rosalind S. Helderman, Washington Post, August 4, 2010

Virginia Gov. Robert F. McDonnell said Tuesday that he has spent months trying to reach an agreement with the federal government to train and deputize state troopers to act as immigration and customs agents to make legal status checks and refer individuals for deportation.

McDonnell (R), a former state attorney general who has helped several localities, including Prince William County, enter into similar agreements, said he expects to make an announcement soon.

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McDonnell’s comments came a day after Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli II issued an opinion that authorizes police to ask anyone stopped for any reason about his or her immigration status.

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Del. Robert G. Marshall (R-Prince William), who requested Cuccinelli’s legal opinion and subsequently wrote to McDonnell to codify the language in the opinion, said he hopes the ruling will give local governments the assurance that they are on “firm constitutional ground” if they choose to request that their law enforcement departments inquire about immigration more frequently.

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A 2008 Virginia law requires that jail officials check the immigration status of everyone who has been arrested and taken into custody. Cuccinelli’s opinion does not require police to act, but it allows officers to check the status of those who are arrested, whether or not they are jailed, and to inquire about the immigration status of everyone who is stopped, including those pulled over for a traffic violation or at a police checkpoint.

In a statement, Cuccinelli insisted that his opinion “simply declares what is existing law.” Groups that have called for stricter enforcement of immigration laws expressed hope that police departments throughout the state will start routine immigration checks of motorists they stop. But an immigrant advocacy group warned McDonnell in a letter late Tuesday that it would sue if he directed law enforcement to investigate the immigration status of those who have been stopped.

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Fairfax County will not have officers check immigration status during routine traffic stops, said Mary Ann Jennings, a police spokeswoman, although it’s checked after an arrest.

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Arlington County police officers do not ask about citizenship status unless it’s relevant to solving a crime. Police do not arrest illegal immigrants for federal immigration violations and report them to authorities only under certain circumstances, including involvement in terrorism or gangs, conviction on a felony, or an arrest on a violent-felony charge.

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In Prince William, police occasionally run the type of traffic-stop checks Cuccinelli’s opinion said they could. Typically, an officer would check when a motorist can’t provide identification, police spokeswoman Kim Chin said. More often, only people who are arrested have their status checked.

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