Anti-Immigrant Ordinance in Virginia Suburb Causes Exodus

“Left unchecked, illegal immigration will almost certainly put our county on a downward spiral, similar to the patterns to be found in the Third World countries these illegal immigrants left,” Prince William County Supervisor John Stirrup wrote last year of his affluent D.C. suburb, as he promoted its police crackdown on undocumented immigrants.

NPR reported Monday on the effects of this effort to “drive out illegal immigrants,” as residents relocate out of fear and businesses catering to Latinos stand “deserted.”

Members of Prince William’s school board cited the immigration policy last month when they announced more than 600 students learning English as a second language had left in the middle of the year. The chair of county commissioners lauded that as proof of the policy’s success.

Hispanic soccer teams have also relocated out of the county, saying fans were afraid to show up at games. Even legal residents say they’ve moved out, concerned for relatives who are undocumented.

This exodus and economic slump fits the pattern of local anti-immigrant ordinances passed over the last few years in places like Valley Park, Missouri and Riverside, New Jersey. And there are more direct costs. Although the county has only just started its crackdown, the county executive is projecting a $500,000 budget overrun for enforcement of this law. Nevertheless, county supervisor Corey Stewart, urging his colleagues not to back down, called the program a “stunning success.”

While the title of NPR’s story described the crackdown’s consequences as “unintended,” it seems that deporting or driving away undocumented immigrants—along with documented residents and Hispanic businesses—was actually the point of the program. That’s how Tom Tancredo explained the purpose of these local anti-immigrant ordinances in a 2006 speech. By that measure, Stewart can call it a “success”—even if it’s the crackdown that causes the county’s downward spiral.