Virginia's immigration Know-Nothings
The news from the Pew Hispanic Center does not reassure.
The center reports that the number of immigrants entering the United States illegally fell by nearly two-thirds between 2005 to 2009. In the first part of the past decade, the number of undocumented people coming into the country was about 850,000 a year. With recession and harsh laws targeting immigrants, it fell to 300,000 a year between 2007 and 2009. The number of undocumented immigrants estimated to be in the country fell by 1 million to about 11 million, the report says.
Among states, the biggest declines were in Virginia, Florida and Nevada. In Virginia, the number fell by 60,000 from 2008 to 2009, to an estimated 240,000.
So, one has to ask: If the number of undocumented workers is falling because of the recession, the crash in housing construction and oppressive laws such as the one Prince William County adopted in 2007, why is there suddenly such a big need for a statewide push against immigrants here illegally?
Corey A. Stewart, the Prince William Board of County Supervisors chairman who backed his county's legislation and is leading the charge for a statewide law, has said he is "proud" of the statistics.
But once again, if the number of undocumented foreigners arriving is dropping, why does Virginia suddenly need to be the next Arizona? Stewart says that if you let up on the pressure, they'll just come back. This plays well at Glenn Beck rallies.
It's hard to fathom this hatred of the foreign-born. It smacks of the "Know-Nothing" movement of the 1840s and 1850s, in which Anglo-Saxon Protestants tried to curb immigration of Catholic Germans and Irish. The newcomers, they said, were unwashed, did not hold American values and committed crimes. Plus, they were controlled by the pope in Rome.
At one point, the Know-Nothings commanded considerable clout and got the upper hand in elections in northern cities, such as Boston and Salem, Mass., that immigrants favored, and they sometimes resorted to violence. Eventually, they ran out of steam.
You can see the effects of Prince William's law. I happened to be in Manassas recently and stopped by Mi Barrio, a Salvadoran-Mexican eatery on Prescott Avenue that caters to Latinos. The owner, Luis Gomez, told me that after the law took effect in 2007, he had to shut down for six months. His customers were afraid to come to the county.
The law, which authorizes county police to stop anyone they suspect of being an illegal immigrant, resulted in the rousting of dark-skinned people in cars, Gomez said. "If they saw three Spanish-looking people in a car, they'd look for a reason to stop them and then check their IDs," he said. Eventually, the cops let up, and Gomez returned to his normal operating times.
It is distressing to think that a county or a state would enact laws designed by their very nature to profile by race and color. Even more absurd is the fact that they are being proposed while the supposed need for a statewide law is going away.
But who knows, maybe the modern-day nativist movement will go the way of the Know-Nothings.
| September 2, 2010; 9:35 AM ET
Categories: HotTopic, Local blog network, Prince William County, Va. Politics, development, economy, environment, faith, history, immigration, race
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