Virginia Immigration Law Stirs Controversy

Last week, officials in Prince William County, Virginia, passed a resolution making it harder for illegal immigrants to access county services. Teresita Jacinto, an immigrant rights activist, explains why she believes the county is only making things worse.

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MICHEL MARTIN, host:

A few days ago, we discussed the new crackdown against illegal immigrants by Prince William County, Virginia. It's a suburb outside of Washington, D.C. The county council recently passed a law that's intended to increase immigration enforcement via police and limit the access of illegal immigrants to public services.

Teresita Jacinto works with the Woodbridge Workers Committee, an organization that helps organize undocumented workers and protect their rights. And she's a member of Mexicanos Sin Fronteras, or Mexicans Without Borders. We wanted to know about how the Latino and undocumented community is reacting to the new law. Ms. Jacinto tells us in her own words.

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Ms. TERESITA JACINTO (Co-Founder, Woodbridge Workers Committee; Member, Mexicans Without Borders): Much of the work that immigrants do in Prince William County - you have a wide range. You have people that do service work, nanny work as employees of private residents or citizens, cleaning in all areas of the community, not just homes. They work in restaurants. They work in construction, in all kinds of small businesses. This is a good one. They work in - as - with subcontractors - as laborers with subcontractors such as some of your cable companies, some of your telephone companies. One of these really sad things that we've found is that they frequently have their pay taken by those subcontractors. They're not paid justly or not paid at all by their employers.

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There is much fear from the immigrants that are here. I have had a rush of phone calls from immigrant families concerned for sending their children to summer school. And some of those children are my students, and they don't trust that they are safe. They know that there are police officers that would very quickly jump for any opportunity to get them out. There was a man that called and asked me can I still drive my bicycle or will I be picked up if I don't know where it's okay to ride or not? That kind of fear - as irrational as it might seem to us - is the kind of fear that we're hearing about.

Already, we know of many women and children who will not report sexual crimes because they are afraid that they will be targeted for deportation. I think that this resolution will impact immigrants in an ever more horrible way. We recognize that there are many challenges, but there are things that I think that have not been looked at by our nation.

For example, we feel that a just immigration law would take into account the conditions that are driving immigrants to travel north. Most of the immigration that we're talking about in Prince William County is clearly the immigration that is coming from the south of our southern borders, so Mexico and all of Latin America.

We have - everybody knows that we have a large population of other immigrants, European immigrants, that are not being targeted by these resolutions. We feel that the issues that have impacted and caused a movement of immigrants to the North has been the passion of NAFTA, North American Free Trade Agreement, and CAFTA, the Central American Free Trade Agreement, which has in effect destroyed the small family firms in Central America and destroyed the ability of the people to see their families there. So they have to go some place to feed - I will do what I need to do to feed my children.

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I am affected personally because I'm part of the community. I'm impacted by the loss of friends - dear friends, lifelong friends. I am impacted by the number of calls and the amount of service that we, on the committee, all have to give. But if it can be counted as a positive impact, it is the effect that this law has had in bringing out a lot of people who have approached us and asked to be part of our work and our struggle and our support for the immigrant community in Prince William County. That's good. It's galvanized those resources.

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MARTIN: Teresita Jacinto is co-founder of the Woodbridge Workers Committee in Prince William County, Virginia. The committee helps organize undocumented workers and protects their rights. Ms. Jacinto is also a member of Mexicanos Sin Fronteras, or Mexicans Without Borders.

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