In fact, most of what annoys these people predates the influx of illegals, and while a burgeoning illegal population exacerbates many of the problems, the problems are not peculiar to illegals, and will continue even if we manage to rid ourselves of the entire population of illegal immigrants.
Some may think I'm saying these problems shouldn't be addressed -- but that wasn't my point. It's hard to say everything you want to say in 750 words, and it's especially hard with a topic as complex as our society and multiculturalism/diversity.
In fact, most of the problems I cite in my article ARE problems we need to solve. Severe overcrowding of houses, large numbers of cars, especially parked in yards, even the proliferation of street vendors who don't seem to meet health guidelines -- these are all problems that require solutions.
The reason I made an issue of this is that, because the focus of the discussion of "illegals" has centered around these and other issues (like the "chickens"), a number of legal residents in our county have rightly felt attacked. If you are a citizen who just happens to NOT speak english, and you listen to speaker after speaker say that you shouldn't be allowed to stay in our country if you don't speak english, you ARE going to feel like the object of scorn and ridicule, even though the speakers really DO intend to talk ONLY about illegals.
I'm sure some of the anti-illegal crowd will see my column as "soft" on illegals, or claim it is calling them racist, or bigoted. But my column simply points out facts. I can't help how those facts apply to what people think. I do think there is a undercurrent of "monoculturalism" in some of the discussions. I don't really fault that -- we all tend to feel more comfortable with people who are like us.
In my column, I included quotes from several people, but I didn't identify any of the people. My point was the issue, not the personalities -- I hope we can keep that in mind as we discuss things.
OK, that's a lot of pre-amble to lead up to my column. I start by voicing my approval of the recently passed PWC resolution:
I'm glad our local government is taking the fight against illegal immigration seriously. We need to end the lawbreaking. People here illegally are responsible for flouting our laws. Negative consequences are a reasonable response to illegal acts.
After some comments about how I still hope we eventually get back to reforming our entire immigration system, I get back to the point of the article, which is that removing illegals won't solve the problems people cite in supporting the crackdown:
However, removing every illegal alien would not fix many of the problems cited by proponents of the crackdown. Their words evoke justifiable fear in the Hispanic community, because the complaints are not about "acts of illegal immigrants," but often about cultural differences which are not unique to the illegal population.
I used the street vendor issue as an example of this problem. Many of these vendors are legal immigrants, and some are residents. That doesn't mean Manassas can't regulate them, or even outlaw them if there is a valid health or safety reason to do so. But when the vendors are cited as a problem with "illegals", all the legal street vendors get the idea that "illegal" is simply a code word for "hispanic". I'm not saying it is, just that it can be perceived that way.
I also note the many complaints about the use of spanish, and overcrowded houses:
Likewise many letters attack the Hispanic community, probably without intending to. Consider: "I'm tired of pressing '1' for English," "my new neighbors are three families cramped in one home," or "If you want to be an American citizen say it in ENGLISH." None of those statements applies solely to illegal residents.
People are upset about too many cars parked in the street or in yards or too many people living in a house.
I had to remove a lot of stuff in this section, where I wanted to say that these are valid complaints, that people have a right to discuss these issues, and to ask for consideration of laws addressing these issues. There's nothing racist about being upset about not being able to find a parking space within a block of your house.
I had been especially amused about the "chicken" article in the Washington Post. A month ago I was walking around my neighborhood looking for "unusual" floral arrangements. At one house there chickens in the back yard. And it wasn't an immigrant household. I don't think our HOA forbids this, and I hadn't thought PWC had a law on the subject, but maybe they do. In any case, when the Post discussed it, I remembered this family, and thought immediately that this isn't just an immigrant issue, much less an ILLEGAL immigrant issue:
An article in Washington Post raised the problem of pet chickens in our county. Noting the chickens, illegal construction, overcrowding, parking and other issues, the Post says our Board "unanimously approved an anti-illegal immigrant resolution, saying that it will diminish those behaviors by driving out the group." But they note many of the chickens "are brought to Prince William by homesick legal residents." The chickens are a problem we need to deal with, but throwing out the illegals won't fix the chicken problem or the parking problem or the overcrowding problem.
One of the things said about this rule that disturbed me was the talk about Prince William not being "like it used to be". But I spent a good number of words on this, because i wanted to be clear that I AGREE that our region has changed, and I'm not all that happy with the changes either. I just don't think we can lay all the blame on Illegals, and I'm certain that getting rid of them won't take us back to those "good old days":
The organization Help Save Manassas issued a statement about the new law. It says in part that illegal "border crashers" are causing "the very destruction of our American culture. Prince William County is not the place it used to be, and as a result many of our productive citizens are leaving." The AP quotes the President of HSM saying "When we moved to this area, it was just a regular American community," but now "It doesn't resemble the American dream that I bought or that I wanted to raise my children in."
I moved here in 1981 and lived in Westgate Apartments. Manassas has undergone a tremendous transformation since that time. There's a large Hispanic population, as well as communities of other cultures and nationalities. And I fear for the unity of our community if we become divided by language. But this isn't solely, or primarily, an illegal immigrant issue, and "solving" illegal immigration won't magically return us to the "American Dream" some pine for.
I had to remove a reference here to the Tower of Babel. For those unfamiliar with the bible story, God decides to divide the people's of the earth, so he gave them different languages. The point is that language is barrier that is virtually impossible to overcome. If you can't speak the same language, you can't communicate, you can't work out your differences, or establish areas of commonality. If you are in an accident, and the other person doesn't speak your language, you have trouble exchanging information. If your server doesn't speak your language, it's hard to order your food.
I think it is critical that we strongly encourage the use of English. I haven't worked out the details of how to make that happen, and I don't want to attack people who don't speak English. That's a work in progress.
I wrap up with a call to both sides to rachet down the divisive rhetoric, and try to at least understand how what they say is being interpreted:
When Hispanics say "Families are really afraid. They're not even reporting crimes to the police anymore," we may think that fear is unfounded, but that doesn't make the fear any less real. When the Police Chief says the new resolution makes it harder to get cooperation, we should solve that problem, rather than call for his resignation as the president of HSM has done.
Yes, that was a swipe at the discussion over at BVBL attacking the police chief. I may some day join those who think he is being to recalcitrant. But for now I think he's making some valid points.
Meanwhile, the legal immigrant communities should look past the rhetoric and acknowledge the problems associated with illegal immigration. Rather than bemoan the difficulties to their communities of rules targeting illegal aliens, they should help clarify the rules to address the problem.
Those in the immigrant community have made the job of those of us in the "middle" on this issue much harder, by making wild accusations and often defending even illegal behavior. Their reaction is used by the other side to justify THEIR harsh rhetoric. And it's so much easier to throw out slogans and make harsh attacks than it is to try to find common ground and complex solutions.
Instead, battle lines are being drawn, with many on both sides fighting for causes which have little to do with illegal immigration. A prolonged fight will be a further blow to our already fractured community. We can, and must, do better.
Not my best column, but I hope it gets people talking. I don't care if people disagree with me about this, so long as I get them thinking a little bit about what they are saying, and maybe get a few to realise that their "opponents" aren't crazy, and have valid points, at least about how they percieve the attacks.