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Culpeper's Immigrants, From South of the Border and From Fairfax

Here's today's column:

For 300 years, Steve Jenkins's ancestors have made Culpeper their home. They farmed the land and built the town. A Jenkins was one of the first in town to sign up for battle when the Civil War broke out. Today, members of the family are high school football coaches, businesspeople and political leaders.

So when he sees his home town overrun with traffic, when he sees dozens of men hanging out in a parking lot waiting for work, when kids in school are encouraged to take Spanish so they might better communicate with some of the newcomers, Jenkins questions whether this is still the Culpeper his family has loved for so many generations.

"For me, it's been like a three-year root canal -- really horrible," says Jenkins, a member of the Town Council and former police officer who works in sales for a uniform company and is an assistant football coach at nearby Caroline County High. "I'm just an old country boy who really liked going into the grocery and knowing who was who. Not like now, when the illegals are off to themselves."

For several years, there has been an undercurrent of grumbling in Culpeper about the influx of immigrants. Since 2000, the Hispanic population of Culpeper County has more than doubled, to about 5 percent of the 44,000 residents. That change has come in the context of enormous overall growth. The Census Bureau last year ranked Culpeper -- about 70 miles southwest of Washington along Route 29 -- the nation's sixth-fastest-growing county, with a 9.3 percent increase in housing units in just one year.

Most newcomers in the town of Culpeper have arrived not from south of the border, but from north: Northern Virginia. Fairfax, to be precise.

Still, most of the simmering anger in Culpeper focuses on immigrants. In the past few weeks, Jenkins has pushed those emotions out into the open. He wants Culpeper to join the small cadre of communities that tired of waiting for the federal government to decide whether to get tough on illegal immigrants or to ease their path toward citizenship. Jenkins says he just wants them to abide by the rules: "I don't want to get 'em in the wagons and outta here. I just want everyone to be aboveboard so we know who people are -- it's about safety and welfare."

So Jenkins called town meetings and proposed laws to see just what a small town can do about illegal immigrants. He says Culpeper needs to hire its first code enforcement officer -- to crack down on large numbers of unrelated people living together in one house. He proposes a law against loitering so that day laborers can be moved off the shopping center parking lot. He wants Culpeper to decree English as its official language, a move he says could let the town stop paying for court interpreters for Spanish speakers.

But mainly, what he wants is for Culpeper to go back to what it was, a small town -- the kind of place where his children would stay once they grew up. And that, Jenkins reluctantly concedes, is not likely to happen, even if every immigrant who arrived in the past decade were to vanish tomorrow.

It won't happen because it's generally the lighter-skinned migrants from Fairfax who brought the three-star restaurants where a plate of seafood paella runs $34, the gift shop that sells "aboriginal art" and Julie Thomas's lovely little corner shop that sells grass-fed beef, pasteurized lamb and all sorts of hormone-free meats and cheeses.

"Those who've moved here from Northern Virginia -- to them, this immigration thing isn't something of great significance," Jenkins says. "They're not concerned about the urbanization of Culpeper, but for those of us who've been here a long time, well, it's driving people away, down to Southwest Virginia, mostly."

In 1996, Thomas left Reston to move to the country. Two years ago, she opened Food for Thought, which sells the kinds of goods that are easily found in Fairfax but were virtually unknown in Culpeper.

Jenkins might be surprised to hear that Thomas is here for many of the same reasons that he cherishes Culpeper. She doesn't miss Reston -- "not for a nanosecond," she says. "It's just a cement jungle. The town center, with all the big-name chain stores and all those people -- it just does not have a neighborhood feel to it. Culpeper still has its quaint, unique, one-owner businesses."

But with all the people from the Washington area moving in, and all that money sloshing around the countryside, Culpeper is attracting Target and Kohl's and Lowe's. As soon as you leave the town center, you hit huge expanses of dirt where big boxes are about to rise. "I don't know if we really need all that," Thomas says. "How deep into Virginia are you going to have to go to find a town like this?"

Despite her misgivings about growth, Thomas sees an upside. "Better schools, better roads, a new theater coming in with the kind of entertainment they never had here," she says. "It all comes from having more people and a bigger tax base."

That's where she and Jenkins part ways. He sees nothing good about bigger. There's a drive-up espresso booth in the parking lot of the shopping center now, but Jenkins prefers to buy his java at 7-Eleven. Those chi-chi shops downtown are awfully pretty, but he'd rather eat at Baby Jim's Snack Bar, where burgers are a buck even.

Jenkins realizes that the moneyed arrivals from the north are not going anywhere. But maybe, he says, just maybe, something can be done about those from the south. "It's a much easier issue, because it's black and white," he says. "I don't get it when people say immigration is a gray issue. You're either legal, or you're not. We need to help them be legal. I'm not for anything harsh. If they're willing to come forward and go through a process, we have an obligation to assist them in every way. But I'm about rules."

Somehow, his town turned from a place that respected rules to one where people don't even know what the rules are. This eats at Jenkins. The solution, he says, is "easy, simple." Just set the rules and let the immigrants become Americans, and then we can all live by the same rules.

That's how it always was in Culpeper; that's how it still is at Baby Jim's, where they make a great milkshake and where big signs instruct customers in exactly what the rules are: "No Loud Talking, No Foul Language, No Loafing and No Sitting on Top of Tables."

By Marc Fisher |  October 8, 2006; 12:06 AM ET
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Comments

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If Steve's family has been here for 300 years, we KNOW what Steve's family did to the people who were already on the land that became his.

Today's immigrants don't want to give us smallpox-infected blankets, kill off our entire people, steal our land and make their own country or any of the stuff that Steve's relatives (and mine) did.

They just want a job. They want their kids ot have a chance to go to college and have a better life. They want to pay into social security and get taken care of when they are old.

Who the hell are we to say "no?"

CC

Posted by: Chalicechick | October 8, 2006 12:21 PM

Reading this article, I understand many white U.S. citizens don't want illegal aliens in their neighborhoods along with black U.S. citizens. Many black traditional neighborhoods have been flooded with illegal aliens from El Salvador, Mexico, and other Central American countries. Many blacks are not happy with the illegal invasion, but many have been silent on this issue. Some blacks see this as getting back at the white man for their racist behavior over the years. Many don't realize, illegal immigration will hurt all black and white U.S. citizens in the long run.

Posted by: D.C. Black Resident | October 8, 2006 1:40 PM

Reading this article, I understand many white U.S. citizens don't want illegal aliens in their neighborhoods along with black U.S. citizens. Many black traditional neighborhoods have been flooded with illegal aliens from El Salvador, Mexico, and other Central American countries. Many blacks are not happy with the illegal invasion, but many have been silent on this issue. Some blacks see this as getting back at the white man for their racist behavior over the years. Many don't realize, illegal immigration will hurt all black and white U.S. citizens in the long run.

Posted by: D.C. Black Resident | October 8, 2006 1:40 PM

Reading this article, I understand many white U.S. citizens don't want illegal aliens in their neighborhoods along with black U.S. citizens. Many black traditional neighborhoods have been flooded with illegal aliens from El Salvador, Mexico, and other Central American countries. Many blacks are not happy with the illegal invasion, but many have been silent on this issue. Some blacks see this as getting back at the white man for their racist behavior over the years. Many don't realize, illegal immigration will hurt all black and white U.S. citizens in the long run.

Posted by: D.C. Black Resident | October 8, 2006 4:50 PM

Reading this article, I understand many white U.S. citizens don't want illegal aliens in their neighborhoods along with black U.S. citizens. Many black traditional neighborhoods have been flooded with illegal aliens from El Salvador, Mexico, and other Central American countries. Many blacks are not happy with the illegal invasion, but many have been silent on this issue. Some blacks see this as getting back at the white man for their racist behavior over the years. Many don't realize, illegal immigration will hurt all black and white U.S. citizens in the long run.

Posted by: D.C. Black Resident | October 8, 2006 4:50 PM

So basically, Mr. Jenkins wants Culpeper to be the way it was when he was growing up? It appears that he still needs to grow up himself. The facts of life are that growth happens. Town's such as Culpeper, Manassas and others can try to retain some of their small-town charm, but the reality is that nothing is going to stay the same forever. What do you think the long-time residents of Chantilly, Centreville, Manassas and similar areas felt like over the last 20 years? It appears he not only doesn't like Hispanic's (legal or illegal), but has a bad feeling towards anyone that has relocated to Culpeper from somewhere else. He seems to have some very petty ideas. And was Culpeper even settled 300 years ago? I'm not sure of the answer to that, but I'm wondering if he isn't stretching it a little.

Posted by: ML | October 9, 2006 2:45 PM

I am myself an immigrant,I'm white, educated, not only I speak English but two other languages. It still took me 11 years to get a green card and I never EVER was in the country illegally. This is the root of the problem, our immigration system is broken. There is a wide gap between reality and immigration law. This this gap has been filled with illegal immigration. When will our morally corrupt political representatives cease to play electoral politics and use scare tactics to get their base to the polls and tackle the real issues? The real criminals in this story are not the uneducated desperate immigrants who have risked life and limb to earn the privilege of cutting your lawns, raising your children and cleaning your bathrooms for meager wages, but those caviar-eating politicians in Congress who oppose any kind of realistic solution to the problem, like that proposed by Sens. McCain and Kennedy, supported by President Bush. It is our responsibility to make those politicians fanning the flames of fear and hate pay the price at the polls.

Posted by: John from Manassas | October 9, 2006 4:25 PM

Typical, typical. Anyone who supports following the rules, and equal treatment for everyone is "petty," "childish," and "needs to grow up.

The only people who need to grow up are those who don't udnerstand the hypocracy of their statements. "I like Culpeper's ' quaintness', I don't miss Fairfax, but gosh, I am so glad to see better schools and a movie theatre and all these new things...blah blah." If you want to live in a quaint town, then you want to live in a place that has no shopping malls, no movie theatres, and you go to bed at 10PM. Otherwise, stay in Fairfax.

Its hypocracy to claim that illegal immigrant are law abiding citizens when they are here in conlfict with the laws. And yes, they do bring small-pox, diptheria, and a host of other illnesses that force the closures of schools and everything else. Yes, they are human beings, and derservng of humane treatment, but facts are facts; they broke the rules, and there are consequences for that.

All the guy is saying is, don't be a hypocrite. Live by your choices, and follow the rules posted on the sign when you enter. He isn't saying don't enter.

Nothing wrong with that.

Posted by: Caesonia | October 10, 2006 12:48 PM

Setting aside the issue of illegal immigration, the person who moved from Reston to Culpeper for its "quaintness" possesses the sort of thinking that is fueling the destruction of rural America.

They move away from their "cement jungles", in search of a quieter, more scenic existence, but insist on bringing their cement jungle lifestyle with them. They demand their upscale restaurants, cafes, specialty stores, theatres, etc. Then they express astonishment and anger when all the tract housing, big box stores and traffic inevitably follow.

The truth is these folks want the beauty that can come with living in the country, but disdain the quality of life that the country has to offer. Frankly, they disdain country people, too. So they try to have it every which way but loose--urban amenities in a rural location--and then get angry when they discover that life doesn't work that way.

Posted by: Claudius | October 11, 2006 5:07 PM

American children are IMMUNIZED for diptheria.

Even if some immigrant children manage to get into school without such immunizations, they shouldn't be causing outbreaks in immunized kids.

And indeed, I haven't heard of a single "outbreak" occuring to say nothing of the closure of the school. Could you provide a source to prove you're not lying?

An illegal immigrant child can only get smallpox by breaking into a lab. At this point smallpox only exists in a few laboratories under tightly controlled conditions. It has been eradicated from the rest of the world.

If you have to tell such crazy lies to make your point, can your point really be all that worth making?

CC

Posted by: Chalicechick | October 12, 2006 11:22 AM

STEVE JENKINS LOCAL HERO, WHO CANT SEEM TO MAKE IT. HE PICKED A HOT BUTTON TO PUT HIM IN THE SPOT LIGHT. WE ARE SMARTER THAN THAT. HE WILL FADE AWAY. AS HE HAD IN THE PAST

Posted by: fred smith | October 19, 2006 8:24 PM

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