Corey Stewart press conference Feb. 7

Supervisor Jeanine Lawson, left, was the only member of the Prince William Board of Supervisors to join Corey Stewart's press conference at the McCoart Administration Building Tuesday during which Stewart announced the county's renewed effort to deport undocumented immigrants detained at the county jail.

Corey Stewart drew immediate criticism from fellow supervisors Tuesday after calling a press conference  to announce what he called Prince William’s renewed commitment to seek the deportation of undocumented immigrants arrested and detained at the county jail.

Stewart, R-At Large, said he called the event ahead of the board of supervisors’ regular meeting to announce the board had unanimously agreed to draft a letter to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials asking the whereabouts of about 7,500 inmates sheriff’s deputies determined to be in the country illegally through what is known as the 287g program, which is administered at the county jail.

Stewart, who is also seeking the Republican nomination in this year’s gubernatorial race, said local police have re-arrested at least 14 percent of those turned over to ICE for immigration violations since about 2008, which he said is evidence many had not been immediately deported.

"On behalf of the board of supervisors, I'm requesting the Trump administration identify, detain and remove the 7,500 criminal illegal aliens we have handed over to ICE for the last 10 years," Stewart said.

Prince William police should be privy to the whereabouts of all individuals turned over to ICE, Stewart added, “so they can cooperate with immigration officials.”

In an executive order signed Jan. 25, President Trump listed several criteria for aliens who will be “prioritiz[ed] for removal,” including those who “have been convicted of any criminal offense,” as well as those who have been “charged with any criminal offense, where such charge has not been resolved,” and those who have “committed acts that constitute a chargeable criminal offense.”

When pressed by reporters, however, Stewart said he had no evidence local police are not already cooperating with federal immigration officials.

He also declined to say what exactly police should do with the information if it were provided.

Supervisor Frank Principi, D-Woodbridge, attended the press conference and was immediately critical of Stewart’s turn in front of the cameras, calling it “political theater.”

“I don’t support what the chairman is doing,” Principi told about 10 local television, radio and print reporters gathered in the lobby of the McCoart Administration building for the event.

Principi further accused Stewart of “twisting” the intent of the supervisors’ federal legislative agenda, which they approved unanimously Jan. 24.

Principi said Stewart was suggesting the supervisors support what he called “the Trump administration’s version of the 287g program,” which has been expanded to check the status of those arrested -- but not necessarily convicted -- of crimes.

If implemented locally, Principi said, the change could “create a police state in Prince William County.”

“Which we do not need [and] we do not want. It is bad for the community,” Principi added. “This is more or less driven for [Stewart’s] political aspirations to run for governor, and that’s a shame.”

Principi said he’ll fight the change “tooth and nail” and said the board would need to “clarify, educate and inform the community” that what Stewart is saying is “nonsense.”

“He misinterpreted or reinterpreted for his own political need what the board of supervisors did,” Principi said. “We don’t want to redirect our limited resources to … chasing down [undocumented immigrants] in the community. That’s not what we should be doing.”

Supervisor Jeanine Lawson, R-Brentsville, was the only supervisor to stand behind the podium with Stewart as he made the announcement. She did not add to Stewart’s remarks or take questions from reporters.

Other supervisors were critical of Stewart’s press conference even before it occurred.

Contacted Monday, both Supervisor Maureen Caddigan, R-Potomac, said Supervisor Marty Nohe, R-Coles, said they would not support any change in the county’s current administration of the 287g program.

Caddigan called Stewart’s press conference an attempt “to stir the pot.”

“He can speak for himself, but he’s not going to speak for me. It’s not sincere,” she said of Stewart. “It’s political.”

“I will not be a party to this. It’s going to frighten our citizens,” she added. “If the federal government wants to do this, they can do it. But we’re local government.”

Reach Jill Palermo at jpalermo@fauquier.com.

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