Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Running them out

-- by Dave

We can now add to the list of New Sundown Towns the fine folks of Prince William County, Virginia, whose passage of anti-illegal-immigrant statutes recently had its intended effect.

That is, its intended message -- Latinos Not Welcome Here -- was apparently quite the success:
It appears the message has already been received: Terrified that new policies will lead to mass deportations, illegal immigrants and the many legal immigrant relatives and friends who live with them have been moving out of Prince William ever since July, when county supervisors first approved the plan's outline.

The size of the migration is difficult to measure, particularly during a year when slumping housing prices and skyrocketing foreclosures have led many residents to move for purely economic reasons.

Still, signs of the growing climate of fear are everywhere.

At the Freetown Market, a convenience store in a heavily Latino section of Woodbridge that offers U-Haul trucks for hire, one-way rentals have jumped from between 10 and 20 a month just before July to about 40 a month today.

In the same strip mall, at a money-transfer store where the customer line to pay utility bills once snaked out the door, business has slowed so dramatically the past three months that one clerk has been let go and the remaining one spends most of her time on the computer, e-mailing gloomy updates to relatives back home in Guatemala.

A few doors down, staff workers at the IMA English language academy will soon be taking the American flag decorations off the walls and moving to a smaller space, because the number of students has plummeted from 350 to about 60 since July.

"There is a mass panic," said the academy's owner, Roberto Catacora. "Those who haven't already moved away don't dare step outside their houses."

Although one of the new measures directs county police to check the immigration status of only criminal suspects, many immigrants think that all Latinos will be subject to random sweeps, Catacora added.

The effect on his once-bustling academy was palpable on a recent weeknight, when all but one of the six classrooms were deserted.

And of course, it's not just illegal Latinos who get this message -- which in fact was exactly as its authors intended:
Several real estate agents who serve Latino immigrants predicted that more people will reach the same conclusion as Ramirez now that the Prince William Board of County Supervisors has given final approval to the anti-illegal immigration measure.

"This is not something that only affects the undocumented," agent Rosie Vilchez said. "Because in the same family, it's so common to have some people who are citizens, some people who are residents and some who are undocumented. And those with papers are going to do whatever is necessary to protect those without."

Within hours of the board's vote, Salvadoran-born Aracely Diaz instructed her real estate agent to put her townhouse on the market.

Diaz, a supermarket checkout clerk, was one of nearly 400 people who waited for hours to comment on the bill during the marathon pre-vote session that stretched into Wednesday's wee hours.

"Even after they passed that July resolution, I had hope that [the supervisors] would change their minds," said Diaz, 37, who has legal status but worries about relatives who do not.

Now, she noted bitterly, "I'll be selling at a loss. But I don't care. I no longer have any affection for this place that treats us this way. I just want to get out."

And who could blame her?

If past history is anything to go by, the white burghers of Prince William County will rue the day they passed these laws. It's not just the prolonged legal battle that is certain to ensue, costing their taxpayers millions. It's not just the deeply negative economic impact, as folks in Carpentersville, Ill., and Hazelton, Pa., and Stillmore, Ga., have learned to their everlasting regret.

No, it's that Prince William County will be known henceforth as a Sundown County -- a white racist enclave that no one with any basic sense of human decency (especially when it comes to racial issues) would want to have anything to do with.

As the New York Times observed this week:
Think of America’s greatest historical shames. Most have involved the singling out of groups of people for abuse. Name a distinguishing feature — skin color, religion, nationality, language — and it’s likely that people here have suffered unjustly for it, either through the freelance hatred of citizens or as a matter of official government policy.

We are heading down this road again. The country needs to have a working immigration policy, one that corresponds to economic realities and is based on good sense and fairness. But it doesn’t. It has federal inertia and a rising immigrant tide, and a national mood of frustration and anxiety that is slipping, as it has so many times before, into hatred and fear. Hostility for illegal immigrants falls disproportionately on an entire population of people, documented or not, who speak Spanish and are working-class or poor. By blinding the country to solutions, it has harmed us all.

... The new demagogues are united in their zeal to uproot the illegal population. They do not discriminate between criminals and the much larger group of ambitious strivers. They champion misguided policies, like a mythically airtight border fence and a reckless campaign of home invasions. And they summon the worst of America’s past by treating a hidden group of vulnerable people as an enemy to be hated and vanquished, not as part of a problem to be managed.

The most recent casualty of this misguided eagerness to inflict harm on "illegals" was the DREAM Act, which went down in the Senate today -- mostly because there were too many Democrats and "moderate" Republicans anxious not to appear "soft on illegals."

These people aren't just hurting themselves along with their intended victims. They're hurting the whole country.

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