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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