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Down Nostalgia Lane: When Illegal Immigration Was Big

Remember way back in 2008, when the big issue was illegal immigration? Seems so long ago.

When times get tough, politics can go either way, capitalizing on the public's anxiety by joining the search for scapegoats, or concentrating instead on finding more palatable ways to make ends meet. So far, at least in Virginia, where the illegal immigration issue took center stage over the past couple of years, the trend is to drop that issue as if it had never existed.

In Richmond, for example, the number of immigration-related bills has plummeted this winter, from 130 in the 2008 session to about 30 this year. Those who led the anti-illegal immigrant movement say this is just a temporary lull caused by the decline in construction work, which has combined with the crackdown in Prince William County to cause something of an exodus of immigrant workers.

But politicians in the state capital say it's more likely that the decline in energy on the immigration issue is a result of the focus on the economy and the fact that state and local governments have pretty much done what they can on immigration--the real power lies with the federal government (which isn't focused on the issue either.)

In Prince William, which was ground zero for the debate on how local authorities might crack down on illegal immigrants, Corey Stewart, the chairman of the board of supervisors who was a leading supporter of boosting enforcement efforts there, made his State of the County speech last week and the change in tone and content from the previous two years was stark:

In 2007, Stewart focused on finding ways to raise hundreds of millions of dollars to improve transportation options in the county. The talk then was about thousands of new jobs, businesses eager to relocate in Prince William and houses still popping out of the ground like weeds.

In 2008, Stewart talked about trying to cut spending and keep the tax burden low, but his primary emphasis was on illegal immigrants and how Prince William could best implement its resolution aimed at making it clear that illegals were not welcome.

"We face the difficult challenge of implementing the resolution, which includes vigorous training of law enforcement personnel to address criminal alien activities," he said then. "Enforcing the resolution must be done fairly and without discrimination, but it must be done. I ask the board to fully support and fund implementation of the illegal immigration measures. Our residents expect no less."

This year, Stewart briefly mentioned that 1,300 immigrants have been deported from Prince William, but illegal immigration otherwise receded to the background as the chairman warned of "deep and often painful" spending cuts made necessary by plummeting tax receipts in a county suffering from a steep drop in home values.

No doubt illegal immigration will rise again as a hot issue, perhaps even during this recession. But the reality that many immigrants have left Prince William, along with the broader decline in construction jobs, means that illegal immigrants are less visible in some places, and the pain this economy is inflicting is now spread so widely that most people have more direct problems to worry about--for now.

By Marc Fisher |  February 6, 2009; 9:35 AM ET
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No one has really written the definitive story about this. Unfortunately due to bad statistics it will have to be a novel, but you can't have lived in DC without noticing:
1. People got loans to fix up their houses
2. People hired immigrants to do that construction
3. The immigrants moved in, increasing rents and home values as they bid against existing residents for limited homes
4. Large tracts of homes were built too far outside of the city for regular commuters
5. These homes (or older rural home stock) were sold or rented to immigrants who worked in construction of these same housing tracts increasing the costs of these homes
6. Businesses catering to immigrant groups moved into vacant properties increasing retail rents
7. With home values skyrocketing, residents in close-in suburbs got ReFis to McMansionize their houses
8. Immigrant labor built those McMansions
9. Local governments got rich off of insane property taxes caused my immigrant's work in the construction industry
10. Governments complained they had to support those same immigrants who were the cause of their increased coffers

The above is called a virtuous circle, where one increase breeds another increase. Then the ARMs kicked in and caused a vicious circle.

The only thing is that I don't know anyone who has moved back to Central America yet- but when people do en-masse they will reduce property values pretty significantly as demand crashes and the rural strip malls filled with Latin Grocery stores lie empty.

Posted by: bbcrock | February 6, 2009 10:41 AM

The issue of immigration is very much still with us. Even as jobs are shed like Fall leaves the Chamber of Commerce and Big Business find that 140,000 new foreign workers each month inadequate and push for even more such low skilled workers.

It is important to understand the dynamic behind immigration:

NumbersUSA is the hero.

Posted by: wandagb | February 6, 2009 11:02 AM

Having lived in Prince William for almost two decades, my frustration lies in the continued inability of the local government to think about the medium or long term. The focus on illegal immigration took place in an emotionally charged environment, generally lacking in clear-headed analysis, data, or understanding of broader trends. Many were already warning the housing bubble would soon burst, with the potential for an economic downturn. That in itself would hit citizens, illegal or legal, hard. On top of that, the local government completely failed to adequately judge the size of the bill or the likelihood of problems, particularly the inability of the federal government to process or pay for anyone detained at the local level. Finally, no one in the local government thought through some of the implications -- are we now happy to have foreclosed houses being bought by "investors" who then rent those homes to multiple families? A recent Post story pointed out that is exactly what's happening. Prince William could suffer more damage long term because of the immigration policy changes then if it had just left well enough alone. Worse, it's local government simply lurches from one position to another without any real work to improve the long-term prospects for the county.

Posted by: teamn | February 6, 2009 12:09 PM

What I see is that the people who are posting here seem to not distinguish between immigrant and illegal alien. There is a huge difference. Spend some time in California and talk to legal immigrants. They are furious with the illegals and the negative impact they are having on this state. Especially the Hispanics who have been here many generations. They tell me that these illegals from Mexico are an embarrassment to them because they lack respect for this country and are only devoted to Mexico.
We need to slow down both illegal and legal immigration. If you can't see that, come to California and see what all this diversity has done. We are not a community anymore. Very few people celebrate together as a community, they stay with their own, and that's what is being encouraged. Not assimilation or community spirit, just celebrate you own culture, not American. We're losing it.

Posted by: Jeanjeanie | February 6, 2009 10:14 PM

Illegal immigration remains an issue in Prince William County. At a recent Town Hall meeting with Senators Barker and Colgan and Delegate Marshall, the main topic of discussion was illegal immigration and enacting laws, such as E-Verify, which would protect jobs for legal immigrants and American citizens.

Washington Post reporter Jennifer Buske was there and failed to report on the Town Hall meeting. 90% of the persons who spoke at the meeting discussed illegal immigration. The Washington Post would like you to believe it is no longer an issue but that is definitely not the truth.

Illegal immigrants are a drain on the economy and have reduced the standard wage. Legal immigrants and American citizens are losing their jobs and our General Assembly is failing to protect us because the majority of those elected representatives are in the pocket of the Chamber of Commerce.

E-Verify would ensure that only legal immigrants and American citizens are being employed in the Commonwealth of Virginia. At a time when unemployment claims are at a 34 year high, it really makes you wonder why our elected officials, both state and federal, are refusing to protect jobs for legal immigrants and American citizens.

Posted by: allisonkipp | February 7, 2009 7:03 AM

Senator Barker's E-Verify SB1499 bill didn't make it out of the Committee on General Laws and Technology.

Here is the breakdown of votes:
YEAS--McEachin, Petersen, Barker, Vogel--4.
NAYS--Locke, Wampler, Stosch, Martin, Ruff, Wagner, Herring, Hurt, Miller, J.C.--9.
ABSTENTIONS--Colgan, Houck--2.

Don't forget Colgan promised to crack down on illegal immigration in his last campaign!!!

Now you know who to call/e-mail/write for not protecting jobs for legal immigrants and American citizens.

Posted by: allisonkipp | February 7, 2009 7:12 AM

Washington just keeps drifting further and further from the reality of living in the rest of America. This issue hasn't gone away and the cost and social problems associated with ILLEGAL immigration are greater now than ever. Washington has simply turned their spineless backs managed to side step what they know is going to anger their generous donors whose profits depend on exploiting these people and the whining lobbying groups who depend on these people for their existence.
Better they should just ignore their own constituents and blame the other party.
Who would have ever thought that California would have to force State employees to take unpaid days off just to survive? Who would have ever thought that
Washington politicians would allow a huge
working impoverished underclass to become not a small group to assist but the future majority of America?

Posted by: menopausequeen | February 7, 2009 7:57 AM

Illegal immigration is and always has been an issue here in the Washington region, but it's going to reemerge on a national scale as soon as this "stimulus" money starts to flow. Who do you think is going to build all those bridges, highways, schools and government facilities? U.S. citizens? Nah! The illegals will get a majority of those jobs, unless controls like E-Verify are put in NOW. We must all keep pushing -- and pushing hard -- on the spineless politicians and feds who don't see any problem with illegal immigration.

Posted by: sdrake1 | February 7, 2009 10:42 AM

Eleven million Americans cannot find full-time jobs at the same time 7 million illegals are permitted to remain in our work force. I'd say that still makes illegal immigration a "big issue."

Dave Gorak
Executive director
Midwest Coalition to Reduce Immigration
LaValle, WI

Posted by: DaveGorak | February 7, 2009 11:01 AM

I once tried to sponsor an immigrant to wrk on my farm. Three years after i made the initial application I got a letter from immigration telling me that I needed to have applied with two original copies of the application, and giving me 20 days to comply else my application would be canceled. This would necessitate sending letters to Mexico and having them notarized there. etc. etc.

All this for an agricultural visa which old allow him to be here six months per year. However, I could have expedited the issue with a payment to INS of $1500.

This system is seriously broken, and wo would have fewer "illegals" if the legal process worked.

Just to rub salt in the wound, the letter from INS was signed by a Mrs. Rodriguez.

Immigration may well become part of the answer to our Social security problems as the American workforce gets older and smaller. At root, much of the "problem" with illegals is xenophobia and economic hysteria which we would do well toget over.

I grew up in a neighborhood that was largely third generation immigrants, and you would hardly detect their national background, although their grnadparents spoke little English. It is time to get over this and find a better way.

Posted by: hydra | February 7, 2009 11:39 AM


Your consistant use of the word "immigrant" is a lame attempt to confuse the issue. The story we're commenting on is about "illegal" immigration. Legal immigration good. Illegal immigration bad. There, that's not too complicated is it?

Posted by: hit4cycle | February 7, 2009 12:14 PM

Hydra why couldn't you give that job to a local legal immigrant or citizen? The only xenophobia being shown in this area is by illegals and their supporters towards legal immigrants and natural born citizens. No more free lunch, no stealing of social services, no more free emergency room care, no licenses for illegals, no home ownership or rentals, these are all things that are against the law. Arrest, detainment, deportation. It's that simple, it will get worse as the economy worsens.

Posted by: zcxnissan | February 7, 2009 3:03 PM

Gosh: sure seems like a hot and getting-hotter issue in Maryland. When half those arrested for murder in the Montgomery County jail are not US citizens, I would say there are some very thorny unresolved questions still in play.

Posted by: RealityCheckerInEffect | February 7, 2009 4:25 PM

Have you been to Mount Pleasant in Washington,D.C.? There are no day laborer jobs on Sunday night. Why are there 20-40 illegal aliens standing inside and outside the 7/11? A cop comes by on his Segway and chases them away. That to me is a problem.

Posted by: Buthulhu | February 7, 2009 5:43 PM

Prior to the inauguration, the Washington Post was present at a Town Hall meeting in Prince William County where about 25 citizens came and voiced their concerns about the presence of illegal immigrants in their community and their disgust for having to compete for the limited county services with illegal immigrants. Why wasn't this Town Hall meeting discussed in the Washington Post when a Wash Post reporter was present. The editors did not want the info reported so that Mr. Fisher could make his claim that folks are no longer interested in illegal immigration.

The Washington Post still remains biased in its reporting and coverage of this debate.

Posted by: miroffsupportsillegalaliens | February 7, 2009 6:05 PM

The issue of illegal immigration is still a hot issue, especially now with Congress debating the stimulus bill. No one is asking the question regarding infrastructure work, whether the jobs that will come will be given to illegals? Americans need these jobs and to give them to contract companies that only want to hire illegals to do these jobs is a slap in the face to the American taxpayer. Why were illegals given the job of rebuilding New Orleans when American workers could have done those jobs? Think this issue will surface again once the work starts opening up. Americans need to speak up.

Posted by: cricket35 | February 8, 2009 12:49 AM

The illegal immingrants were turning Manassas, Woodbridge, and Dale City into ghettos. Many people in these communties own their homes, these are middle class and some cases upper middle class communities, and they were being flooded with immingrants and illegal immingrants that could not upkeep these homes and pay the bills. Someone needs investgate, how these illegal immingrants were purcashing these homes for $400,000 and $500,000. PS-Media needS to stop showing blacks losing their homes in the subprime market, if you look at the zip codes with highest foreclosure rates, they are mostly Hispancis(Fresno, CA and Vages) or areas with large number investors (like South Flordia). Back to the topic, every since thses illegal alliens left PWC, the communities are safer, less crime, and homes look better. The MS-13 are out. Momgomery, Prince George's and Fairfax county need to follow PWC sucessful crack down. Now we need keep the crack heads from DC and NYC city from moving to PWC.

Posted by: nativeva1 | February 8, 2009 6:27 AM

bbcrock, you left out one thing. McMansioninzing of houses. And new huge too big houses built with cheap labor. Energy wasters. Not to mention God awful new condo buildings ruining various cityscapes around the nation.

Posted by: sugarstreet | February 8, 2009 8:45 AM

Mark Fisher has always been clueless about what is happening outside of DC. Anyone with an IQ over 10 understands the illegal alien is the biggest core cause of our economic problems in this country. Last year alone, the illegal alien problem cost the American taxpayer 346 Billion dollars. All that money for citizens of other countries and fugitives from justice. I only wish a day labor center would open in front of the homes of Fisher and his liberal sidekicks. Since the illegal is a problem others have to deal with, he can stay in his elite neighborhood and pretend he understands life in the big city. Writers like Clueless Mark are the reason the paper is called the Washington Compost.

Posted by: CitizenPayne | February 8, 2009 9:33 AM

I know alot of African Americans that are just waiting for obama to put the illegals before them, one gentlemen told me, "If you think you saw a MILLION MAN MARCH BEFORE, JUST WAIT. Jobs have to be given to Americans, we can no longer afford the ways of the illegal aliens. They need to go back to their own counties and try to fix their own Governments.

Posted by: highwaybluesoccer | February 8, 2009 10:46 AM

Seems that Marc is talking only to his like-minded, WaPo-agenda-driven, open-borders, scamnesty-supporting cohorts. Come on out into the REAL world, little Marc, and talk with REAL people and find that WE AMERICANS are absolutely livid over the illegal alien invasion and over "our" government's refusal to seriously address the issue. If "The One" and his Dimocrat/ Commie collaborators in D.C. think that they are going to pull a fast one and impose a scamnesty bill on Americans, they had better rethink that thought or face a real revolution.

Posted by: segeny | February 8, 2009 11:02 AM

As long as I know which way the wind is blowing I no longer care what happens with the immigration issue.
I am a small business owner in Prince William County. For the last 35 years I have run a service business and have always obeyed the laws, dutifully paid my taxes and have been proud to employ such wonderful people. I employ 10-12 employees, all legal residents. I pay $15-$22. Per hour to perform work in commercial buildings. I can no longer stay in business and compete with the illegal employers and workers. At the average of $18 per hour I also have to pay employment taxes and health care. This adds another $6.50 per hour cost or total cost of $24.50.
My competition has all the advantages. For one many are illegal themselves obtaining a LLC so that they can cash checks and file some, not all taxable income. They hire labor for $8-$10 per hour, they withhold income and SS tax but never issue 1099’s since they know the workers will never file anyway. They pay no unemployment tax nor obtain workman’s comp insurance. This lowers their employee cost even more to about $6-$7 per hour.
Many of the managers that manage this type of contracting are aliens themselves and have let me know in no uncertain terms who they would like to see working on their jobs. (Taking care of their own)
I have already explaining to my employee’s that I will be letting many of them go in the coming months trying to be fair with them and hope that they can find other employment. They all have families and most have mortgages. They already have applied to my competitors and have reported the wages they have been offered.
Since this is how the government has designated the game should be played, by not enforcing the laws and giving the wink-wink to all employers who wish to conduct business this way I have no choice but to due business as the government expects us to do.
This bothers me to no end but going out of business this late in life bothers me even more.

Posted by: justlookin | February 8, 2009 3:43 PM

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