Home to Roost: Why Virginia Might Be the Next Arizona

Arizona’s SB 1070 has its roots in a local Virginia law that may soon be going statewide. Will the Commonwealth be the next immigration flashpoint?

    Mayday, Richmond, 2010

A National Controversy

Arizona’s SB 1070, one of the most sweeping and controversial immigration policies in decades, lost its teeth yesterday, less than 24 hours before it went into effect. Among other less-contested points, the law would have required immigrants to travel with registration documents at all times, made it a criminal act for undocumented immigrants to acquire work, and allowed police a “warrantless arrest” of anyone suspected of being deportable. All three of these provisions were blocked by a federal judge. Arizona is appealing the decision, and the case looks as though it may be headed to the Supreme Court.

The legislation has been an unavoidable flashpoint in the immigration debate for months. On May 1st, international worker’s day, tens of thousands of people demonstrated against the legislation in more than 70 cities[1] while a group of 35 protesters – including a U.S. congressman – was arrested for civil disobedience in front of the White House[2]. 24 hours earlier, the debate had spread to entertainment and celebrity gossip circles when Columbian-born pop artist Shakira held a joint press conference with the mayor of Phoenix in opposition to the law[3]. It bled over into sports when the Major League Baseball Union demanded that the law be ‘repealed or modified’[4]. The business world found itself concerned as Los Angeles announced an official boycott of Arizona businesses[5], dealing a $50 million hit to the state’s economy as other cities threatened to follow suit.

No realm of interest has been left untouched.

The Rule of Law

Despite this notoriety, many people are surprised to learn that the policy actually began three years earlier in a wealthy Virginia community.

In 2007, the chairman of the Prince William County Board of Supervisors, Corey Stewart, proposed an ordinance that would require police officers to check the immigration status of people suspected of being undocumented immigrants. A large opposition movement appeared immediately, claiming that the law would institutionalize racial profiling. The county was soon bitterly divided, and vitriol from both sides of the debate quickly reached a fever pitch. On the night that the Board of Supervisors voted on the measure, more than a thousand people spilled out of the meeting hall and into overflow rooms to voice opposition. The public comment session was forced to go on until 3:00 in the morning. At the end of the meeting, the board unanimously approved the measure anyway.

Since that night, Corey Stewart has been working on immigration legislation for the entire state of Virginia. The result: a bill almost identical to SB 1070 called “The Rule of Law Act”. After three years, it seems that the immigration policy that started here may be all grown up and coming home to roost.

Listen to Stewart announce the Rule of Law Campaign on the Schilling Show

The striking similarity between The Rule of Law Act and SB 1070 is no coincidence. As it turns out, the publicly recognized “architects” of these two laws – Corey Stewart and Kris Koback – are just figureheads, tiny cogs in an enormous machine.

The machine behind both of these policies is the Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR), an anti-immigration think tank headquartered in the nation’s capital. The organization seeks a total moratorium on immigration by anyone other than refugees and the spouses and minor children of U.S. citizens.

FAIR is classified as a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center[6], and a nativist and extremist group by the Anti-Defamation League[7].

Its founder and current board member, John Tanton, holds the firm belief that a declining white population will lead to America’s cultural demise:

    “I’ve come to the point of view that for European-American society and culture to persist requires a European-American majority, and a clear one at that.”

To this end, Tanton once proposed what he called a “European-American Defense” group. The group’s mission would be to defend “ourselves and our tradition against attacks”, counter “the denigration of Western culture” which is “under siege,” and stop the “reduction of the European-American demographic and cultural majority to minority status.”

    “[W]e decline to bequeath to our children minority status in their own land. Thus immigration must be sharply reduced.”

FAIR can perhaps best be understood as the incarnation of this white majority defense group, along with a dozen other anti-immigration groups he has founded and/or supported over the years[8].

Tanton has also questioned whether Latinos are “educable”, “whether the minorities who are going to inherit California… can run an advanced society”, and has expressed interest in the process of eugenics, or selective breeding, made infamous by the Nazis.[9]

With such a blatantly controversial rap sheet, it may surprise the reader to learn that FAIR has been called to testify before Congress on immigration bills more than any other organization in the country. It counts among its supporters a number of well-respected business leaders and politicians.

The actual author of Prince William’s immigration policy was FAIR’s lead attorney, Michael Hethmon, who proudly claimed, “I am the drafter of this ordinance. To the extent that there is some mad scientist behind this, we’ll be happy to take credit for this.”[10]

Nonethless, FAIR isn’t solely responsible for Prince William’s legislation. They were first approached by Greg Letiecq, the founder and head of Virginia anti-immigration group Help Save Manassas. He is also the author of the blog Black Velvet Bruce Li, which has described day labor sites as “open air toilets”, suggested that illegal immigrant ice cream vendors might be spreading leprosy in Manassas[11], and lashed out at homosexuals, Democrats and leftists in general[12].

He views multiculturalism as “misguided” and certainly shares Tanton’s perception of white culture under attack:

    “Whether our battle is combating the ‘press one for English’ insanity, or preventing the pollution of our longstanding cultural traditions with pagan harvest rituals from Mexico in our Christmas celebrations, we must engage in the struggle.”[13]

Selling Numbers

Since Corey Stewart first announced the Rule of Law campaign to bring SB 1070 to all of Virginia, he has been quite busy selling the idea to the public. He drums up support and keeps interested parties updated through his website, email subscriptions, speaking tours and television appearances. (And of course, no modern political campaign is complete without its own Facebook page.)

All of these medium contain one central message: The Prince William County immigration law reduced violent crime by 38%.

The claim is misleading at best, intentionally dishonest at worst. Stewart cites the statistic from a study performed by the University of Virginia during the two years following the law’s implementation in 2007. Its purpose was to determine the effects of the immigration law, and it employed a healthy variety of methods to do so.

The study had at least four inherent difficulties, noted by its authors in the opening pages:

The study had as a major focus a group of people for whom data inherently does not exist. Undocumented people simply don’t show up in many official records that the study looked at.
The study had no control group.
The study took place in an emotionally charged atmosphere of strongly divided opinion.
The study started amidst important, rapid changes in the Prince William environment: the mortgage crisis, a general economic slowdown, a rapidly changing political climate, a national immigration policy in flux, strong media interest and attention, and perhaps most importantly, a staggering decline in the area’s construction industry, which is a major employer of undocumented workers.

For these reasons and others, the authors of the study noted that “[i]t is not possible to clearly attribute observed changes in the community to the County policy itself”. Despite these unavoidable difficulties, the UVA researchers were able to put together a lot of useful information, most of which completely discredits any insinuation that immigrants had been responsible for large percentages of violent crime. What were the most important findings of the UVA study and crime statistics for future policy decisions? Let’s take a look.

Finding #1: Illegal immigrants are not linked to the decrease in aggravated assault.
The year 2008 actually saw an increase in several types of crime. Auto theft, burglary, larceny and murder were all up that year. The instances of reported rape stayed at exactly the same number. It turns out that all of the 38% decrease was in one particular category of violent crime: aggravated assault.

The study found that undocumented immigrants only accounted for 2%-3% of aggravated assaults in Prince William, making it impossible for them to affect a 38% shift in the numbers. “In sum,” the study notes, “PWC is not a high crime county, nor has its crime rate increased in any straightforward way with the growth of its immigrant population.”

As if the author’s of the study suspected that the decrease in assaults would be seized upon by politicans, they inserted multiple paragraphs with notations about why it would be a bad idea to assume that it was attributable to the immigration law.

For starters, despite the common media-driven conception, violent crime is down nationally and regionally, and has been declining for a number of years. (This is why a control group is important.) In a National Review Online post, John J. Miller wrote: “As it happens, crime rates have been going down for a long time in Prince William County. The latest numbers are part of a trend that started long before the county took a stand against illegal immigration.”[14]

Prince William’s own police chief has also pointed out this fact, suggesting that the county’s crime rates have been consistent with a trend: “Nationwide, crime rates are declining, and I’m pleased we’ve continued to see’ that in the county, too.”[15]

On top of this, the study notes, Prince William county’s rates of violent and property crime are already substantially lower than both the nationwide average and the average for other suburban areas. “Furthermore,” it goes on to say, “it is not readily apparent why the immigration policy would have had a disproportionate impact on aggravated assault.”

The study also notes that some of the decrease may be due to immigrants being afraid to report crime committed against them. This would add quite a ironic twist to the story – an especially vulnerable group of people is blamed for crime, and when they’re too afraid to report it (or not around to experience it), the lower reported crime is offered as proof of their own criminality.

Finding #2: Crime rates jumped again in 2009.
Ignoring the text of the study entirely, Stewart attributes the 2008 decline in violent crime (by which he means aggravated assaults) to a mass exodus of undocumented people from the county. What he has failed to explain is why, a year after the exodus, the entire category of violent crime increased 11% – rape, robbery and aggravated assault included – against the national trend. It would seem Stewart must either propose that undocumented immigrants suddenly repopulated the county (an absurd notion that would instantly nullify any claims of the law’s efficacy anyway), or propose that fearful immigrants who left the county were never the cause of the assaults in the first place – which both the study and common sense suggest.

Finding #3: The legislation exacerbated distrust for police and government amongst communities of color.
This hardly needs to be expounded on. Polls showed that after the legislation passed, only 50% of blacks trusted the Prince William government to “do the right thing most of the time”. The percentage for Hispanics was, perhaps unsurpringly, even lower.

Finding #4: Undocumented immigrants probably did not contribute to overcrowded housing.
This was one of the main charges leveled against immigrants when the legislation was being drafted, and will be succinctly dealt with by quoting the study directly:

    “According to federal housing estimates, the number of housing units in Prince William County grew from 98,000 to 134,000 between 2000 and 2007, a 37% increase. The average number of people per unit actually declined from 2.8 people to 2.6 people. These figures, of course, do not account for illegal immigrants, for which there is no good estimate, but if we assume that illegal immigrants added an extra 40,000 to the county’s population, the average number of people per housing unit would only have risen to 3 people. It is likely that overcrowding was less of a problem than indicated, but that there were some visible cases that affected people’s perceptions.”

Finding #5: Prince William police identified racism as a factor in support of the legislation.

    “[D]uring a focus group, patrol officers indicated that after the policy went into effect they saw evidence that some supporters of the policy viewed it as a way of ridding their neighborhoods of Hispanics in general and not just illegal immigrants.”

A Battle On the Horizon
The blocking of SB 1070s most controversial components is mostly a stopgap measure. In the months to come, the law suit filed against Arizona by the federal government’s Department of Justice will play out, along with the suits filed by various police officers and other organizations. Whatever happens in Arizona, it is critical that Virginians keep their attention focused on the “Rule of Law” here at home. There may still be time to rally the support necessary to defeat Stewart’s legislation before it gains enough momentum to pass in the Virginia General Assembly. I have assembled this information to further that cause, and I sincerely hope that you will pass on this article to individuals and organizations that you believe will find value in it.


3 Responses to “Home to Roost: Why Virginia Might Be the Next Arizona”

  1. John Steinbach Says:

    This is a great analysis of the situation in Prince William. I’d like to note that on labor Day weekend in 2007, my group, Mexicans Without Borders, mobilized over 8.000 to protest the resolution. We were denounced by Stewart as ‘lawless and unAmerican’ the following day from our own stage and podium.

    Stewart announced his proposed ‘Rule of Law’ legislation today.

    If we are to defeat Stewart, Miller, Linghamfelter and other nativist extremists in the General Assembly, the entire community must come together.

    John Steinbach,
    Community Coordinator, Mexicans Without Borders

  2. this is a great article! although the subject is very disturbing. I had no idea this was going on in Prince William County. I hope if this “Rule of Law” gains any more strength there will be a serious fight against it.

    I’m in the Richmond area and I would be glad to participate in any rallies or protests here

  3. Wow, great article. Here’s to it seeing more exposure!

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