Friday, July 13, 2007

Prince William County: Legislating Xenophobia Since 2007

So, I grew up in Prince William County, Virginia. Woodbridge, to be exact. And I usually don’t think too much about it. For a county with nothing but strip malls, bowling alleys and chain restaurants, PWC has produced some great people. But I’ve been following the illegal immigrant crackdown with both detached sarcasm and occasional gut-twisting flashes of annoyance.

If you haven’t been following the immigration debate, here’s the story so far:

There are probably over 12 million illegal immigrants in the United States. Nobody really knows how many, of course, because they aren't documented. For a long time, nobody really cared except for xenophobic hillbillies, talk radio hosts, and shady employers in search of cheap labor. Then suburbia was looking a little more crowded than usual, and they started selling piƱatas at the Wal-Mart. Illegals wanted fair pay and justice, and locals wanted them to just go back to Mexico (even if they weren’t Mexican, because anything south of Texas is Mexico). Congress recently fell on its collective ass and failed to pass any sort of immigration reform bill. Cities and states, attempting to rival the stupidity of Congress, began dreaming up strategies to make illegals so miserable that maybe, just maybe, they’d disappear. Then we could all just go back to normal. Wal-Mart could once more be the province of the sort of folks that spank their kids in public, and suburbia could once more be the home of Mom, Dad, and their 2.4 kids.

But the world only moves in one direction: forward. You can’t turn back a clock, uncrack an egg, or erase every Pauly Shore film ever made.

All of this brings us to Prince William County. Good old PWC recently passed a resolution exhorting county staff, including police, to rigorously deny whatever services they can to illegal immigrants. Supervisor John T. Stirrup Jr. claims this will stem the tide of “economic hardship and lawlessness” in Prince William.

Before I say anything else, “economic hardship and lawlessness”? Is this guy for real? Since when did Nokesville become the West Bank? Are roving gangs of Janjaweed lighting fire to the kiosks of Potomac Mills? Are rebel armies taking hostages over at Chinn Library?

By “economic hardship and lawlessness,” Stirrup means heavier traffic, an extra fight or two on Saturday night, and a multitude of ugly cars in Dale City’s driveways. A hassle and a problem, yes, but hardly the end of society. And I do get that we can’t open our doors to everyone who wants to come here. And Prince William went from predominately rural to extraordinarily congested in just twenty years. That’s a hard pill to swallow.

What this resolution really seeks to do is make illegal immigrants so freaked out that they’ll just pack up and leave. They’ll move to Stafford County, Stafford will pass a resolution, so they’ll go to Spotsylvania, and so on and so forth until they’re far far away.

I doubt that’s possible. I get queasy at the idea of punishing people who just want to work and support their families. I figure that if you're willing to swim a river, travel in the back of a U-Haul, or cross a desert, you deserve to be an American more than I do. I doubt Joe Illegal (or Jose Illegal, as the case may be) wants to turn Woodbridge into the Wild West.

It seems like the politicians who beat the “family values” drum are the same ones who want to raid workplaces, deport everyone they can, and split up families if they have to. Whatever it takes to ensure that the only families we value are the ones that look exactly like ours.

And I can’t believe I have to point this out: America is a nation of immigrants, both voluntary and involuntary. Only about two percent of the US population claims Native American ancestry. So, Mr. Stirrup, you’re an immigrant. I daresay you have ancestors who staked their claim with broken treaties and smallpox blankets. Nowadays those same claims are being staked with flophouses and day laborer pickup lots.

Everything we hear now about Hispanics is the same stuff we said about the Irish, the Italians, the Germans, and so forth. This is a story we’ve all heard before. And the ending is always the same: eventually we get over ourselves and learn to get along.

What we need is a way to track these guys, give them a fair shake and a decent salary, and not scare the crap out of people. We also need to change the rhetoric from “us vs. them” to “we’re all in this together.” There are 12 million people living in limbo, and nothing is going to change unless America is willing to share its toys and play well with others.


Nathan said...

Actually, what we really need to do is kill immigration completely for a generation and get our own shit together. But, then again, I really need somebody to paint my brand new condo, cause I just don't have the time for that kind of shit. Hmmmmm.......

Shannon said...

Well, congrats on the condo at least. I just think people need to be a bit realistic. Immigrants, legal or not, aren't going anywhere. And they're doing the jobs that pansy Americans won't bother with. So let's get 'em out in the open and start tracking them.

Also, I am damn tired of reading about the decline in the quality of life of PWC. Seriously, it's not like that place started off as a paradise.

Nathan said...

Indeed. So imagine how much they're trying to fight said "decline". And just so it's understood, I've got absolutley no real opinion on illegal immigration. Much like Abortion. I just don't care one way or the other. I'm just saying we've already got enough cheap labor, let's just seal off the borders for 20 years and get our own shit fixed.

Shannon said...

I don't think blocking immigration for 20 years is the answer. The reason is one of demographics.

Birth rates, and therefore populations, are declining all over the Western world. In Europe, they have fallen below the level of replacement (about 2.1 kids per family). The population is aging so rapidly that there simply aren't enough young people to support social programs for the elderly. (The parasitic nature of old people is a whole other conversation.) So Europe is going to have to be a tad more welcoming to immigrants if they don't want to die out.

In the US, we have kept pace with our birth rates, primarily because immigrant populations produce more kids than the "native" population. So if we stop immigration, even for 20 years, there won't be enough young people to work to support the old. And Social Security will crash and burn even faster than originally projected.

So we have to have immigration if we want to stay afloat as a country. We just have to figure out a better system.

Nathan said...

Less people is never bad. Ever.