Residents Uneasy About Immigrant Shift Into Suburbs Immigrant families living in the U.S. illegally have been moving out of urban areas into the suburbs. That's creating new tensions with some of the people who live there.

Residents Uneasy About Immigrant Shift Into Suburbs

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ARUN RATH: For many new immigrants, cities are the first stop. But in recent decades, immigrant families living here illegally have been moving out of urban areas into the suburbs. And as NPR's Caitlin Dickerson reports, that's creating tension.

CAITLIN DICKERSON, BYLINE: In an apartment in Alexandria, Virginia, just outside Washington, D.C., Sulma Garcia is vacuuming while the TV plays in the background. She's on a break before she heads to her second job of the day as a nanny. Garcia and seven-year-old son Ramon fled their village in El Salvador in November of last year because of all the crime there.

SULMA GARCIA: (Spanish spoken).

DICKERSON: She says gang members were forcing kids to carry drugs and drink beer. They taught Ramon how to roll marijuana into a blunt.

GARCIA: (Spanish spoken).

DICKERSON: Garcia and her son were apprehended at the border by immigration authorities and released into the U.S. to go through the deportation process. Their next hearing is in January, and they're hoping to figure out a way to stay in the U.S. permanently by then. That makes some Virginians anxious.

TYLER PIERCE: Housing, food, health care, education, college.

DICKERSON: Tyler Pierce ticks off the public benefits he knows will go to new immigrants in the U.S. Pierce is a scientist in the Air Force. He and his wife, Jill, have five kids. Four of them are adopted and have special needs. They moved their family to Northern Virginia this past summer.

JILL PIERCE: I don't think that we can go into every country and save every child going through every difficult time. I wish that we could.

DICKERSON: The Pierces stress that they worry about immigrant children's safety, especially those who come to the U.S. alone. But they also don't want to set a precedent that will encourage even more people to cross the border illegally. Greg Letiecq shares that concern.

GREG LETIECQ: We don't have enough money to take care of American kids and legal immigrants.

DICKERSON: Letiecq is president of the Northern Virginia group Help Save Manassas. It's a grassroots organization that opposes illegal immigration.

LETIECQ: Where are we going to get the money and the resources to take care of illegal aliens that don't have a right to be here in the first place?

DICKERSON: Help Save Manassas has been lobbying for local officials to change law enforcement practices and housing code since 2007. They want to make it more difficult for people without legal status to live in their community.

LETIECQ: It is very common to have 15 people living in a three-bedroom house. So we went to them and said, you know, maybe we could limit the number of people based on the floor space in a house - you know, how many square feet for bedrooms and stuff - and then say that a certain number of people can occupy a residence based on that.

JULIE WEISE: By showing up in these upwardly mobile areas just like Northern Virginia, they're pushing the buttons of a very powerful constituency.

DICKERSON: Julie Weise is an immigration historian at the University of Oregon. She's finding advocacy groups like Help Save Manassas all across the country. She says the shift of immigrant families moving out of working-class areas into middle-class suburbs isn't sitting well with some families there, especially when it comes to education.

WEISE: Why are people living in a place like Prince William County, an hour away from their job in Washington, D.C.? You can get more house there for less money, but the top reason is the schools.

DICKERSON: Weise says today's immigrant families also want to put their kids in the best public schools and that they're coming up with savvy ways to buy themselves into those school districts.

WEISE: Such as living with multiple families in one home.

DICKERSON: That's what Sulma Garcia did. She and her son Ramon share their apartment in Alexandria with Garcia's sister and her kids. And Tyler Pierce, that suburban dad, acknowledges that immigrants, like Garcia, who are fleeing violence don't have many options.

T. PIERCE: I'm not so naive to see everything through rose-colored glasses. I understand that they're in such desperate straits, they're at their wits end to figure out what to do for their children. And I just feel that there's a certain order that will be better for everyone involved.

DICKERSON: But that certain order is not what Sulma Garcia is hoping for. She says she and Ramon can't go back to El Salvador. It's too dangerous. She brags that he learned English in just four months. And she talks about Ramon like he's an American kid.

GARCIA: (Spanish language).

DICKERSON: I want him to be a good kid, she says. I want him to study and to be somebody and to represent this country. Caitlin Dickerson, NPR News.

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