The federal government will soon grant a group of Virginia State Police officers the power to enforce immigration law, making the state the third to adopt the practice since the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, the Washington Post reports. The tentative agreement between the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and the Virginia State Police is part of a national movement to grant local law enforcement officials more authority to detain illegal immigrants.
Proponents say the expanded powers will give police more tools to combat terrorism, gang violence, and other crimes. Immigrant advocates say the trend could lead to ethnic profiling. Some officials, including D.C. Police Chief Charles Ramsey, oppose the idea and say it could discourage immigrants from reporting crimes.
The debate illustrates the difficulties of improving security in a country that is home to 8 million or more illegal immigrants. Three of the 19 hijackers in 2001 were part of that population, but so are millions of workers and families across America. Homeland Security, which enforces immigration laws, acknowledges that it does not have enough agents to track down all undocumented immigrants.
Virginia decided to seek extra immigration powers for some state police officers after taking part in local and federal task forces on terrorism and gang violence.
A provision of a 1996 law allows federal authorities to “deputize” local or state police to enforce immigration law. Florida and Alabama have sent dozens of state police officers to be trained in immigration enforcement under the federal program since the Sept. 11 attacks.
Michael J. Garcia, who oversees immigration enforcement for Homeland Security, said federal authorities were not urging state police to receive the training but were happy to provide it if asked.
A Virginia official said officers would use their immigration authority only in special cases. “We’re not going to plan any sweeps of illegal immigrants and whatnot. We just want this tool to use in other cases,” he said.