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 piñatas 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.