Debating The Impact Of An Immigration Crackdown In 2007, Prince William County, Va., voted to step up police checks aimed at driving out illegal immigrants. The move sparked local outcry and national attention, but five years on, supporters and opponents differ on whether the policy has been a success.
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Debating The Impact Of An Immigration Crackdown

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Debating The Impact Of An Immigration Crackdown

Debating The Impact Of An Immigration Crackdown

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From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel.

In the coming year, Congress is expected to take up the issue of immigration reform. It was lawmakers' lack of action that prompted a number of states and local governments to adopt their own regulations aimed at driving out undocumented immigrants.

One of those places is Prince William County, Virginia. NPR's Jennifer Ludden has this update on the impact of immigration restrictions there.

JENNIFER LUDDEN, BYLINE: In 2007, county commissioners voted to let police check the immigration status of anyone they had probable cause to think was in the U.S. unlawfully. The impact was felt directly here.


LUDDEN: Family restaurant Ricos Tacos Moya, where staff prep buckets of ice and tubs of salsa. Stacey Moya is the owner's daughter and remembers that year well.

STACEY MOYA: Suddenly nobody showed up. Nobody was around. Not one soul. We would go hours without any customers, any clients - nothing.

LUDDEN: After community protests, the policy was soon watered down. In fact, police only check the status of those they arrest for a crime. Still, the stigma around the resolution stuck. Moya says one of her family's restaurants went under. And while business at this one has picked up, it's not the same.

MOYA: Not even the weekends, after church, nowhere near as what it was before. I guess nobody likes to be around, you know, in the public that much.

LUDDEN: Of course, Prince William County's immigration crackdown coincided with the tanking economy. It's hard to say which had more impact - police checks, or disappearing construction jobs. But one thing the policy aimed to address has not completely disappeared.

APOLINAR: (Spanish spoken)

LUDDEN: Undocumented day laborers still gather outside this 7-11. Twenty-eight-year-old Apolinar would speak only if we didn't use his last name. He says he came here three years ago from central Mexico.

APOLINAR: (Spanish spoken)

LUDDEN: I have to support my family, he says. There's just no work where I'm from in Mexico.

John Steinbach advocates for these men through the Woodbridge Workers Committee. He says, yes, the number of day laborers has dwindled but there's a larger trend underway.

JOHN STEINBACH: What has happened here is inevitable, just like many of us predicted. And that is that the demographic changes in Prince William County continue.

LUDDEN: The Hispanic population has kept growing, both through immigration and births. In fact, the census now finds Prince William County is majority-minority, a designation that may have been slowed but was not stopped by the 2007 immigration ordinance.

STEINBACH: Other than causing a lot of chaos and a lot of pain for a lot of families, I don't think that it had any impact whatsoever.

COREY STEWART: So far, we have handed over to the federal government more than 5,500 illegal immigrants who have committed crimes.

LUDDEN: Corey Stewart heads Prince William's Board of Supervisors and was the main sponsor of the immigration policy. He says without it, most of those immigrants would not have been turned over. And he says violent crime is way down, though some question whether that's because of the policy. Stewart also points to annual surveys that show broad public support for the way police are carrying out the policy.

STEWART: I think the reason for that is people have seen their neighborhoods become safer and everybody has benefited. And also, the Latino community, I believe, has recognized that it has not led to the racial profiling that many of them feared.

LUDDEN: At Todos Supermarket, owner Carlos Castro says some who left the county after the crackdown are now back.

CARLO CASTRO: I saw the people back in the store. Some moved to the Carolinas. I just saw somebody that went to Florida and they're back.

LUDDEN: He says both the Chamber of Commerce and the police force worked hard to reach out to Hispanics and reassure them. He thinks many business leaders now see the immigration policy as a mistake.

CASTRO: I heard so many people at the business leadership level that we should have stopped this before, so I think we learned.

LUDDEN: But Castro has a new concern. Now that Prince William County is majority-minority, he says, it needs politicians who reflect that. He's launching efforts to help make sure Hispanics are part of a new generation of leaders.

Jennifer Ludden, NPR News.

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