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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