Illegal immigrants who usually try to stay away from police are being urged by authorities to come forward with any information about the Beltway Sniper attacks.
And the federal government is putting out a special visa as the carrot.
"We are committed to supporting the investigation into the shootings in any way possible," Immigration and Naturalization Service Commissioner James Ziglar said in a statement Wednesday. "It is crucial that local authorities get the help they need in this investigation."
Police are urging all possible witnesses to come forward if they have any information regarding the Beltway Sniper’s killing spree that has now left 10 people dead and three injured -- even if they’re here illegally.
"I want to personally urge the immigrant community to come forward if they have information that will assist in this investigation, and assure everyone that INS will not seek immigration status information provided to local authorities in this effort," Ziglar said.
Ziglar added that special visa status is available to those people who help law enforcement in combating and solving crime.
"Working with local law enforcement and other appropriate agencies, we will look favorably on granting such special visa status to anyone who can be proven to have materially aided this investigation," he said.
But criminal defense attorney Bob Dunn said that given the fact federal authorities have cracked down on illegal immigrants since Sept. 11, this may be a big request. "All of that in the mix is going to make people very hesitant to come forward," Dunn said.
Montgomery County Police Chief Charles Moose on Wednesday pleaded with immigrants to not worry about any legal snares they may have with being in the United States illegally and to simply come forward and tell police what they know about any of the incidents.
"There are witnesses that have not come forward that we have not talked to," Moose said. "There may be people with some type of immigrant status … when we have federal law enforcement involvement … there’s not going to be a problem."
Moose stressed that asking the immigrant community for help despite their legal status on community crime cases is nothing new. He noted it is often hard for them to overcome past negative experiences with the law in their home country and that local police merely want help.
"We’ve always felt members of the immigrant community have various thoughts and concepts about their willingness to cooperate with law enforcement," he said. "This is not the first time I’ve sent out this type of message."
Moose said county police don’t even have the authority to enforce federal immigration laws.
Montgomery County Executive Doug Duncan backed up Moose, saying the job of the county is to provide services, not to ask questions about immigrants’ legal status, particularly in a region that is rich with culture and people of all different backgrounds.
"We deal with this on a daily basis" when providing services to the community, Duncan said. "The message we have every day of the year is the same message here."