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The Immigration Situation: Clowns to the Left, Jokers to the Right

The Sunday column

In Cardinal Glen, a young development in Woodbridge where the builder is busy carving the next set of cul-de-sacs out of the rich clay of Prince William County, kids leave their bicycles lying on the driveway all day long and some folks don't bother to lock their doors.

But there's also a house with way too many cars parked outside and way too many people living inside. And then there's a moment like one Craig Vitter suffered in December: Vitter returned from Christmas shopping about 7 in the evening, pulled into his driveway, watched his wife take their daughter inside, and then, while he stayed out on the lawn to have a smoke, a man in a ski mask pulled a pistol on him and got away with about $20 Vitter had in his wallet.

"You wouldn't think there'd be much of that in this neighborhood," said Vitter, 34, a software programmer. "But these are $500,000 houses that become boarding houses, with 10 or 12 cars out front in various states of disrepair. And you see lots of gang graffiti."

So when Prince William supervisors last week ordered county agencies to figure out which services they can deny to illegal immigrants, Vitter was among the many residents who urged them on -- regardless of whether his own assailant was legal.

"Illegal immigration is a crime and it is a crime that begets more crime," he wrote to county supervisors. (The county's overall crime rate has decreased steadily in recent years, but juvenile arrests are way up, and so are street robberies. There are enough facts out there for everyone.)

Things have gotten to the point where Vitter -- who grew up in Fairfax and moved to Prince William in search of the holy grail of affordable housing in a place with good schools -- has thought of leaving, though he doesn't know where he'd go.

On the fringes of the debate over illegal immigration, the loudest voices cry out for drastic action. On the right, the shouts are for Lou Dobbsian measures: massive deportations, a big fence on the border, random inspections like you see in World War II movies -- "Your papers, please!" On the left, the reply is equally hysterical: Children will be deprived of schooling, families will go without medical care, police will run amok.

But here's the thing about most of the people I talked to as I wandered the county the other day. They're upset about the changes in the place they chose to live, yet they are under no illusion that anything politicians can or would do will make much of a difference.

Middle-class people moved to Prince William because it was a rare patch of relative affordability in a metropolitan area where housing prices are stratospheric. They saw the county as a place where families of modest means could still find a house, a decent yard and good schools. And now they find themselves suffering from many of the problems that plague places they would not choose to live in -- crime, crowding, people who don't speak English and don't know the rules.

"This is the land of opportunity, but they're supposed to abide by our rules," said Ned Natale, a retired federal worker who has lived in Prince William since 1967. He supports the county's new effort to crack down on illegal immigrants but says the simple fact is that deportations in any significant numbers are "just never going to happen."

Vitter wrote in favor of the crackdown on his blog, Craig's Musings, but when I asked what the county's effort to identify illegal immigrants and report them to federal authorities would accomplish, he replied: "Very little. All the county can do is make illegals feel less at home here, which isn't necessarily a good or bad thing."

Like most people I spoke to in Dale City and Woodbridge, Vitter faulted both those who view illegal immigrants as the root of their own problems and those who prefer to do nothing while illegal immigration strains county services.

"If I were in a poor Central American country and had no economic prospects, I would probably try like hell to get over the border to the United States," he said. "And I'm a parent and I know these children in our schools didn't choose to have parents who are illegal immigrants. They need to be educated, and they need medical care. The problem is, who's paying the taxes to support these children?

"I came to this county with the understanding that the schools here would be as excellent as the Fairfax schools, and now I don't know if that's going to be the case."

LaShawn Hayes, who moved to the county from New York City seven years ago, sees the graffiti and the gangs and knows something must be done. Yet she worries about giving the police expanded powers to check immigrants' status. "I'm a U.S. citizen and I'm African American, but I do look Hispanic," she said, "and they could stop me for that, and I would be offended. I don't know -- I go up and down on the whole issue."

People know there's a problem, and they want something done. But they don't think much is likely to change, and they know our economy depends heavily on illegal immigrants and they don't want to be seen as racists. And they want the rules to be enforced. They're conflicted.

Just like the politicians in Washington.

By Marc Fisher |  July 14, 2007; 10:41 PM ET
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Comments

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Despite hollow denials, those builders carving cul-de-sacs develop those subdivisions with undocumented labor in their business plans. When will Prince William County round up the developers? And ask local police how they feel about doing the work of Federal officials without additional resources. Street cops hate this kind of thing. Undocumented but peaceful neighbors are now unwilling to tell police about the few bad actors in their midst, and whole communities become vulnerable to extortion by criminal gangs as well as criminal employers.

Posted by: Mike Licht | July 15, 2007 8:03 AM

How do the problems and conflicts with today's Latin American immigrants differ from those which this country faced -- and surmounted -- with earlier waves of European and Asian immigrants?

These aren't problems so much as they are opportunities -- for the recent immigrants and for us longer-term residents. My own view is that the problem is not with the immigrants but with the statutory artifice that labels them "illegal."

Posted by: KK | July 15, 2007 8:25 AM

Allow a person to break one law you might as well open the door and allow all laws to be broken. If The USA citizens would all band together and boycott Mexico until the government there put a stop to drugs and those crossing our borders illegally we would not be having these problems. If some people in our government officals were not making money off drugs coming into this country we would not be having that problem. We as americans can stop these problems by enforcing our laws and voting for replacing of most lawmakers in Washington and elect only those who listen to the voters and not forigen governments. We are the one they were elected to serve.

Posted by: budswisr | July 15, 2007 9:56 AM

KK, you apparenlt don't have to live next to a house full of illegal hispanics. They have no respect for other's property. They think it nothing to urinate in someone's garden or even on sidewalks. They are disrecpectful and they need to go back to their native country.

Posted by: Anonymous | July 15, 2007 11:46 AM

Anonymous, 11:46--

What you're describing is a fraternity party at the University of Maryland. But, I don't think we should send them all back to Cumberland or Princess Anne or Pocomoke City or wherever else they came from. We can all get along and we will all be better for it.

Posted by: KK | July 15, 2007 10:08 PM

Even the fraternity houses at College Park do have some level of accountability. Offending students might not get "sent back," but it is usually pretty easy to identify who they are, and if it actually is a fraternity, then there are officers to answer for civil/criminal transactions. But in these instances of unofficial boarding houses part of the problem is the absence for any mechanism of enforcement. There was a story on the situation in Annandale recently where county officials went into a home, found that the basement had been divided into 5 cubicle bedrooms, and the owner explained that they were "relatives" visiting from some Central American country. The county had no authority to ask for documentation from the "relatives," and even if they did, were they to find that none had legal immigration status, there is probably nothing they could do with that information.

I would like to find some kind of solution to the immigration mess, but as long as the Hispanic lobby holds firm to the position that any enforcement of immigration laws = racism, we will never get anywhere.

Posted by: Oscar | July 16, 2007 9:24 AM

Allow a person to break one law you might as well open the door and allow all laws to be broken.
----

Because there's no difference between going 40 in a 35 mph zone and murder, is there?

Posted by: Anonymous | July 16, 2007 9:25 AM

I've shared this story before, but my parents longtime neighbor who is Latin and has lived in this country for 20 years married a landscaper who was a new immigrant a few years back. He moved his company into her million dollar home and within a month there were scruffy guys hanging out on my parents front lawn eating breakfast at 6am. Multiple flatbed trucks. pallets of gardening supplies in the street. When my mother chased the would-be laborers away, they left their garbage. A house on their block sold for over $2 million, they are all immaculately kept except the house of the landscapers (ironic, no?), and they have a private security service. For almost a year the security service would shoo these laborers away in the morning at night. Montgomery County did nothing to stop what was essentially legal and lawful assembly, but assembly that was absolutely incendiary for the neighborhood. No one familiar with US culture would run a landscaping business out of a million dollar house if you could rent a garage in a business district to park your trucks. Right now my parents are forming a neighborhood association to pass bylaws to eliminate that from happening again, but no one wants a neighborhood association- they suck. And no one wants to be associated with anti-immigrant attitudes, that's un-American. But it really is an issue of fraternity-style behavior by a bunch of single men disassociated from the culture that kept them in line, living wild and free in a new country without the Church, Mom, Dad and the wife to tell them to quit drinking, stop hooting at women on the street and stop littering. I would never have believed it if we hadn't witnessed it. I would have shrugged off this kind of attitude as anti-Immigrant if I hadn't witnessed it and correctly categorized it as environmental and feminist.

Posted by: DCer | July 16, 2007 9:41 AM

Marc,

Can you provide a citation or link to where Lou Dobbs has actually called for mass deportation? I realize stretching the truth is part of your gimmick, but the most that can be said is that Dobbs has stated that deportation could be accomplished if the government wanted to. That is not the same as stating that mass deportations should occur.

Posted by: Al | July 16, 2007 10:02 AM

KK:

"How do the problems and conflicts with today's Latin American immigrants differ from those which this country faced -- and surmounted -- with earlier waves of European and Asian immigrants?"

When they start living 10 to a house with cars parked all over the yard and start drinking outdoors, getting drunk, fighting, peeing in your flower beds, and leering at your wife or daughter and making lewd comments, perhaps you won't be so namby-pamby and touchly-feely.

"My own view is that the problem is not with the immigrants but with the statutory artifice that labels them "illegal.""

They came into the country illegally. Without proper documents. That's against the law, even in the countries they came here from. Which part of that don't you understand?

I love you touchy-feely libs. These people can't afford to come to YOUR neighborhood and trash YOUR surroundings, and lower YOUR property values, yet you have the gall to make pronouncements.

You love them so much and think the problem is "the statutory artifice that labels them "illegal.""? Fine. Put your money where your mouth is. Take some of them in.

THEN come back with your sanctimonious, morally-superior tripe. Until then, just keep quiet.

Posted by: CEEAF | July 16, 2007 11:23 AM

KK said:

"How do the problems and conflicts with today's Latin American immigrants differ from those which this country faced -- and surmounted -- with earlier waves of European and Asian immigrants? "

This one's easy.

The "ealier waves" of European and Asian immigrant came here LEGALLY and once here, worked hard to LEARN ENGLISH and assimilate; they didn't remain separate and demand that WE change to accomodate THEM.

To put it simply, you don't have to select phone prompt options to choose between English and French, German, Chinese, or Japanese when you call the bank or the DMV.

Comprende?

Posted by: CEEAF | July 16, 2007 11:44 AM

CEEAF-

As someone who once managed a phone bank, I will tell you, we didn't put an option for Chinese, Korean, Urdu, French or Italian on our phone menu, but we had staff who handles those languages because our customers spoke those languages. And while French usually meant Quebecoise or Cote D'Ivoire immigrant, Italian meant Northern New Jersey grandmother. your theory is demonstrably false because we absolutely had 3 operators to handle all the Chinese.

Posted by: DCer | July 16, 2007 12:07 PM

DCer makes an excellent point: many of the immigrants in our area (I make no statements about their legal status, because I don't know) are single men, living without the civilizing influence of their families. They work very long hours, and in their free time, they drink with their friends and listen to loud music.

I would never make a "deport 'em all" argument-- I know too well how entirely our economy depends on these workers. It's naive to think the U.S. could function without unregulated labor. But I do wish they would leave a little time in their long days to tidy up around their boarding houses, or take their parties to the park where the noise won't be so troublesome. It's can be almost as beneficial to avoid making enemies as it is to make friends.

Posted by: WDC | July 16, 2007 1:01 PM

While I am frustrated by the current immigration problems, I don't think that mythologizing earlier waves of European immigration (cf: CEEAF) helps the debate. I hear this point raised again and again, how "my ancestors" came here legally. I wonder how many people who make this claim understand what the legal process was to immigrate in 1800, 1850 or 1900, and whether their ancestors were fully compliant. Further, we never hear anyone say, my great-grandfather came to the US and was miserable; he dreamed of going home to Italy [or Ireland, Germany, etc.] but spent all his money to bring his family over; he refused to speak English at home and died a bitter man. If you read sources from the time, as opposed to depending on folklore your grandmother told you at Thanksgiving, you would know that this characterized many Euro immigrants.

Posted by: Paul | July 16, 2007 1:21 PM

DCer.

Thanks. I'll remember what you said and stand corrected the first time I hear "press 1 for English, press 2 for French, Chinese", etc.


Posted by: CEEAF | July 16, 2007 1:43 PM

I agree there is a problem with the immagrants in this country. We do need to start deporting in masses. I pay taxes and I don't feel my taxes should be used to house, medicate or feed those who are here illegally. Lou D is on the right track as far as deporting and putting up fences only I think the fence needs to be electrified. There are too many criminals crossing our boarders committing crimes here and nothing being done about that. If they want to be here they should be made to take the same legal paths that many have already. I also feel this country needs to start getting off its butt and producing our own marketable resources. This country is supporting too many other countries and its time we looked out for our own. Keep the jobs here, produce here, keep it here. We are capable of producing anything and yet we still choose to import...why? Why are we supporting and building other countries. It is time we close all of our boarders and build this country back up and take care of our own. This is America and we are Americans it time to take pride. I shouldn't have to learn another language in order to qualify for a job, they should. My grandfather came from Italy into Ellis Island, learned to speak english and legally became a citizan. If we as a nation continue to wear blinders this will no longer be America the beautiful it will be another dirty 3rd world country with no defenses and if you don't understand that one ask yourself how many illegal immagrants are in the military defending this country...NONE. Wake up America.

Posted by: Take it Back | July 16, 2007 2:06 PM

Thanks. I'll remember what you said and stand corrected the first time I hear "press 1 for English, press 2 for French, Chinese", etc.
-------

If you can read English, you can read what I wrote-- and that's not what I wrote. People would say things like "Can I speak Chinese?" when our operator would come on.

Posted by: DCer | July 16, 2007 2:56 PM

One of the best characteristics of our counties and country is the mix of culture and ethnicities. There is a distinct and modest pride that we all share in the contributions that each of us make to our communities and nation. Nevertheless, we must be very mindful of the reality that there are important socioeconomic, fiscal and legal responsibilities we must maintain and safeguard.

Unfortunately, playing the politics and politricks of getting elected disable most officials and candidates from making genuine efforts to fully address illegal immigration, and its socioeconomic impact on every certified citizen, legal immigrant and long waiting applicant for U.S. citizenship.

Many will try to gain public status, justification and media attention by twisting illegal immigration into a so-called race issue. Thankfully, to our nation's credit, legal citizens and legal immigrants come in all ethnicities. Being against illegal immigration is not synonymous with being against anyone of Hispanic ethnicity. Unfortunately, too many so-called Hispanic leaders and supporters play that card. When was the last time you saw an immigration rally for Asian, African, Eastern European or Caribbean immigrants?

Here is a practical common sense action plan and proposal to best secure our cities and communities when we honestly recognize the current and expanding socioeconomic burdens, and security risks, of illegal immigration. Keep in mind, states and counties can apply this plan without conflict to federal laws and bogus class action immigration lawsuits. Citizen initiatives, referendums and voter activism (removing public officials through elections or recalls) are also formidable keys to inacting this plan:

RESIDENCY CARD: Authorize only legal citizen-residents and legal immigrant residents to carry a fully secure and verifiable county or state residency card. The encoded biometric-holographic photo identity card will have an embedded electronic chip additionally encoded with tamperproof identity data. The expense of producing, managing and securing these cards are no greater than the cost of ATM or most employee identification cards. Violations in the use or counterfeiting of residency cards will result in 10 years of imprisonment and a $10,000 fine. Authorized owners of the residency cards are eligible for a one-time 1% tax credit on their annual local income tax (i.e. $20,000 x .01 = $200). Through a decrease in identity fraud and abuse, the state and local governments will annually save over $2,000 per legal citizen resident from a reduction in the need to fund government operations to prevent and prosecute fraud and abuse of public services by unauthorized residents. Also, there is added savings by enabling better monitoring, budgeting and targeting of taxpayer money for diverse government services. Additionally, it is mandatory that a fully accountable system be in place to ensure a higher level of general local public safety. The residency card system will be managed by the newly created local or state Residency Certification Service (RCS). State or local RCS agencies should have full investigative, arrest and prosecution powers.

PUBLIC SERVICES: Authorize only legal US citizen residents and legal immigrant residents to have access to public services, and must prove their status through the secure and verifiable RCS residency card. Illegal recipient violators of public services will receive 1 year of imprisonment followed by immediate deportation.

EMPLOYMENT: Authorize only legal US citizen residents and legal immigrant residents to have access to private and public employment, and must prove their status through a secure and verifiable RCS residency card. Insure swift and severe financial penalties and imprisonment against employers ($20,000 per illegal employee, plus 5 years imprisonment with a 10-year revocation of applicable business licenses and permits). Illegal employee violators will receive 1 year of imprisonment followed by immediate deportation.

HOUSING: Authorize only legal US citizen residents and legal immigrant residents to have access to private and public housing, and must prove their status through the RCS residency card. Insure swift and severe financial penalties and imprisonment against residency owners, property managers, independent renters, and sub-leasers ($20,000 per illegal occupant, plus 5 years imprisonment with a 10-year revocation of applicable business licenses and permits). Illegal occupant violators will receive 1 year of imprisonment followed by immediate deportation.

HEALTH SERVICES: Authorize only legal US citizen residents and legal immigrant residents to have access to public health facilities and publicly financed health services, and must prove their status through the secure verifiable RCS residency card. Only critical (immediate and short term life saving) emergency services will be provided. Insure swift and severe financial penalties and imprisonment against facilities and healthcare providers ($20,000 per illegal recipient, plus 5 years imprisonment with a 10-year revocation of applicable operating licenses and permits). Illegal recipient violators of health services will receive 1 year of imprisonment followed by immediate deportation.

EDUCATION: Authorize only legal US citizen residents and legal immigrant residents to have access to private and public education services supported by public funds and services, and must prove their status through the secure verifiable RCS residency card. Insure swift and severe financial penalties and imprisonment against education facilities and training providers ($20,000 per illegal student, plus 5 years imprisonment with a 10-year revocation of applicable business licenses and permits). Illegal recipient violators of education services will receive 1 year of imprisonment followed by immediate deportation.

Lastly, here is the part of the plan that will test the true intentions, integrity, credibility and genuine agenda of businesses (and special interest funded public officials) who justify their appetite for cheap, uninsured and exploitable labor. It also speaks to the countries that purposely export their poverty.

PROBATIONAL EMPLOYEE STATUS: Provide a fully accountable and secure system for non-citizen immigrants with certified US Immigration status to work and live in the state or county through an employer-financed employment program. This program, Probationary Employment Status Authorization (PESA), is designed to track and transition immigrants with current and certifiable US non-citizen status into legal citizenship at employer expense. Employers are required to sponsor and pay the PESA applicant at or above the minimum DC wage (or compatible to the local salary rate for the occupation), plus finance the standard individual health benefits for the applicant. Employers must guarantee full-time employment for one year. In the 11th month of employment, PESA applicants must apply for legal citizenship. During the one year probationary employment period, and until legal US citizenship is authorized, the applicant cannot have citizenship or extend any PESA benefits to immediate family members (legally married spouse, legal guardian children, legal siblings and legal grandparents) until legal US citizenship is authorized. Extended family members (cousins, aunts, uncles, nieces, nephews, in-laws, 'godparents' et cetera) are excluded from any family-linked citizenship. Applicant or employer violations of PESA statues will resort in immediate prosecution, 1 year of imprisonment and a $100,000 fine against both violators. Applicant violators face deportation after serving 1 year in jail.

Facing reality in a practical and compassionate way can be a challenging balance. Nevertheless, we have a primary responsibility to respond to any and all challenges that threaten our need for real socioeconomic stability and reliable traditions of equitable justice. A truly diverse yet common heritage defines us as Washingtonians, secures the integrity of our national capital, and empowers our nation. Compromising this integrity, security and heritage binds us to the culture of chaos and despair found elsewhere.

Illegal immigration into our small and large communities, has been nationally proven to bring expanded and increased burdens on local schools, available housing, healthcare systems, employment opportunities, fragile government budgets and critical public services.

There is a clear and comprehensive difference between our legal immigrant citizen neighbors, who contribute greatly to the vitality of our cities, and those who have chosen to reside, work and drain publicly financed services under various illegal activities and scams. There can be no gray area, doubt or distortion when it comes to the laws that apply to us all. Illegal still means breaking the law.

Breaking laws, or providing inequitable exceptions to the law, distorts and weakens the integrity of our legal system. Losing trust in the integrity of our legal system has long-term governance and socioeconomic consequences for us all. Elected and appointed public officials must not sacrifice or set aside the standards of law that binds and strengthens our diverse communities. Moreover, taxpaying legal citizen voters must be responsibly vigilant and proactive by insuring that our schools, housing, hospitals, jobs, and other vital socioeconomic assets are not burdened or decreased by the activities of diverse illegal immigrants. All public officials elected and paid by taxpayers must be held accountable before and on election day for any socioeconomic damage to our communities.

More frankly, public officials and candidates must be held accountable for engaging in any pretentious rhetoric, phony policy pronouncements or campaign pandering just to get elected, or stay elected. The reality of limited taxpayer revenue, compounded by the loss of living wage jobs, basic employment opportunities, family housing, efficient school systems, easier healthcare access, effective public safety and middle class achievement must not be the vision and plan of our public officials.

Simultaneously, we must take extraordinary measures to insure that our many valued new citizen-residents and visitors to our counties and states are not discriminated against, exploited or diminished in any way by the illegal activities of anyone. A zero-tolerance policy must be in place against any and all forms of bias and exploitation of new citizens. Our strength as a country, including native born and legal immigrant citizens, resides in our diversity as rooted in the laws that guide, protect and define us as a nation.

Dennis Moore
Chairperson
District of Columbia Independents for Citizen Control
http://www.DCIndependents.org
Your comments and criticisms are most welcomed at: dennis@DCIndependents.org

Posted by: Dennis Moore | July 16, 2007 3:21 PM

DCer,:"

"If you can read English, you can read what I wrote-- and that's not what I wrote. "

Same to you, clown.

You've missed my point entirely. And the fact you have such a smart mouth clearly shows that you wouldn't understand it if I explained it. So have a happy landing.

Posted by: CEEAF | July 16, 2007 4:48 PM

DCer, you don't appear to know what you are even arguing about. I have been reading your posts, and you are out in left field somewhere.

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