The Commonwealth Attorney says Harrisonburg and Rockingham County can't be proactive in seeking illegal aliens because it doesn't have the resources. But the immigration and customs enforcement is starting to work with local governments to help them communicate better.
Commonwealth Attorney Marsha Garst says illegal aliens who commit crimes need to be treated like any other criminal in this country.
"Deportation is not the simple answer," said Marsha Garst. "If we do not punish the criminal conduct then that sends a message to those that commit a crime in Rockingham County or the City of Harrisonburg, and you can reenter in El Paso or wherever you come through."
Illegal immigrants can still avoid punishment by poor communication between the magistrate and the Commonwealth Attorney.
"There are circumstances where notification is not made properly to the attorney prior to a bond hearing where we do not know of the person's status, so our system is not perfect," said Garst.
That's why council members are taking the first steps in this complicated immigration issue and beginning to talk to other localities.
"It's very rewarding to talk to other municipalities and see how they deal with these same situations, so hopefully we'll be bringing some information back at how we might implement some programs that would be helpful here as well," said Mayor Rodney Eagle.
Garst says local governments can work with Immigration and Customs Enforcement, also known as ICE, to make sure government receives the information needed to put illegal aliens behind bars.
"Immigrations and Customs is working very hard to make sure that we have bond information. We're trying to hold individuals that we deemed to pose a threat to this community and the safety of this community and we feel we cannot hold because we fear that they will flee the community," said Garst.
The attorney estimates that 20 to 30 percent of the city's cases involve illegal aliens. Garst wants to make sure the attorney's office knows of these cases so the illegal immigrants won't receive bond, and therefore will to be held and can't leave the country without a trial.