by Jason Hopkins
An illegal alien was arrested in a Northern Virginia suburb for his alleged involvement in a deadly hit-and-run accident and handed over to immigration officials, but local leaders are looking to scrap a program that allows law enforcement to cooperate with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).
Officials in Prince William County, Virginia, have debated ending a years-long partnership program with federal immigration authorities, the 287(g) program. The introduction of new jail board appointees is expected to lead to the end of this partnership, according to proponents of the program.
As the debate was occurring this week, an illegal alien was arrested after he allegedly struck a man with his vehicle, killing him, and speeding off, according to ICE. Federal authorities and proponents of the program are pointing to the arrest of this man as a prime example of why the partnership needs to stay in place.
A 62-year-old northern Virginia man, attempting to cross a road in the early morning hours of May 6, was struck by two vehicles, with the injuries he sustained ultimately causing him to die, according to news outlet Inside NOVA. The second vehicle that struck him as he laid on the road sped away. The Prince William County Police Department identified and arrested 35-year-old Walner Alberto Pichinte Echeverria May 18, Inside NOVA reported.
Pichinte Echeverria, a Salvadoran national, was living unlawfully in the U.S. and was placed in ICE on May 21, spokeswoman for the agency told the Daily Caller News Foundation.
“Walner Alberto Pichinte Echeverria, 35, an unlawfully present Salvadoran national, was turned over to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement on May 21 by the Prince William County Police Department in Manassas, Virginia, after his arrest May 18 for felony hit and run,” ICE spokeswoman Kaitlyn Pote said in a statement provided to the DCNF.
“On May 19, a designated immigration officer with the 287(g) Program at the Prince William-Manassas Regional Adult Detention Center in Manassas, Virginia, trained to identify and process removable aliens with criminal charges, served Pichinte a warrant of arrest and an immigration detainer,” Pote continued. “He remains in ICE custody pending the outcome of his removal proceedings.”
The 287(g) program allows Prince William County to verify the immigration status of suspects who are arrested and charged with a crime. If the individual is discovered to be living in the U.S. unlawfully, they are subsequently handed over to ICE.
The Prince William-Manassas Regional Adult Detention Center has been a partner in the program since 2007, according to ICE.
The cooperation agreement also allows the agency to pay for most of the tab for immigration enforcement. Critics of the program have argued that local officers shouldn’t expend their own resources to assist federal authorities.
“The goal of 287(g) is to enhance public safety by identifying aliens, lodging immigration detainers, and initiating removal proceedings by issuing charging documents on criminal and removable aliens booked into the jail facility,” ICE said in a statement.
The agency added that in fiscal year 2019, the program resulted in close to 25,000 law enforcement encounters with aliens in the custody of participating jurisdictions — nearly 1,600 of those took place in Prince William County alone.
Law enforcement jurisdictions across the country have entered into these 287(g) programs. There are a total of 124 law enforcement agencies across 22 states that have entered into such agreements.
The partnership has become controversial among progressive community leaders, particularly in response to the Trump administration’s immigration policies. Prince William County, much like the rest of northern Virginia, has shifted toward the Democratic Party, and the now-Democrat-controlled county board of supervisors may have set the stage to scrap it.
At the end of a marathon session of the Prince William County Board of Supervisors on Tuesday, three new appointments were made to the county’s jail board by a party-line vote. The appointees include Democratic state Del. Elizabeth Guzman, who has explicitly voiced her desire to end 287(g); Cozy Bailey, the president of the county’s NAACP chapter; and Democrat Tracey Lenox.
Prince William County Sheriff Glendell Hill urged the Board of County Supervisors to not to make appointments based on controversial issues like immigration enforcement, according to Potomac Local News.
One of the new appointees to the county jail board, Elizabeth Guzman, a Peruvian immigrant to the U.S., has pledged to end 287(g). She has previously claimed that she would be pulled over by police at least once every two weeks because of her ethnicity, and has said the 287(g) program is unnecessary because jails in the state already check immigration status.
Hill denied the claim that jails can verify the immigration status of inmates without an agreement with ICE.
The possible demise of Prince William County’s 287(g) program has prompted supporters to mobilize. A rally was held in Woodbridge, Virginia, Tuesday in support of the program and of Hill, a fifth-term sheriff who has overseen the program for years.
“There’s nothing wrong with law enforcement working with law enforcement to keep your community safe,” said Tom Homan, the former acting director of ICE and now senior fellow at the Immigration and Reform Law Institute (IRLI). “Now those on the left that want to attack the 287(g) program and support sanctuary cities, here’s your battle cry.”
IRLI, a nonprofit group based in Washington, D.C., that advocates for lower levels of immigration, also expects the county’s 287(g) program to be at risk. However, some see the arrest of Pichinte Echeverria as an world example of the program’s benefits.
“This case is a textbook example of why communities need the 287(g) program,” Dale L. Wilcox, executive director and general counsel of IRLI, told the DCNF in a statement.
“An illegal alien who commits the kind of crimes alleged here should not only be off our streets, but out of our country. They are a threat to all residents including other immigrants. Prince William County residents should demand accountability from leaders who are making their community more dangerous for political convenience,” Wilcox said.
The Commonwealth’s Attorneys Office, which prosecutes all criminal and traffic cases occurring within Prince William County, did not immediately respond to a request for comment from the DCNF.
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Jason Hopkins is a reporter for the Daily Caller News Foundation.