District residents are pretty accustomed to hearing politicians they didn’t elect telling them how to run their city. Most of the time, it’s members of Congress who speak up — as when Sen. Jim Webb (D-Va.) recently objected to the city’s erstwhile law permitting the arrest of drivers whose cars’ registrations have expired.
Yesterday, a smaller-bore politico opened fire at city — in particular at Mayor Vincent C. Gray’s move Wednesday to order city agencies not to cooperate with federal immigration enforcement. Corey A. Stewart, chairman of the Prince William Board of Country Supervisors, issued a statement calling Gray’s move “disturbing and reprehensible.”
Stewart (R-At Large) has served as board chairman since 2007 and has presided as the board has taken numerous steps to make Prince William County less hospitable to illegal immigrants — most notably by ordering police to check the immigration status of every person they arrest, without exception. A University of Virginia study released last year found that the county’s nonresident Hispanic population dropped considerably in the years after the law had passed.
In an interview late Wednesday, Stewart expanded on his critique of Gray and his order, which was sought by activists who argued that immigrants would otherwise be less likely to seek help from or cooperate with police and other city departments.
“What we do in one part of the region affects the others,” Stewart said. ”I really feel strongly that it’s a disservice to the residents of the District in particular, but the residents of the region as a whole that you’re not even going to allow law enforcement officials to ask the immigration status of somebody who’s violated the law. It definitely is going to have a negative effect on public safety in the region. ... The second thing is, what a reprehensible message it sends that we’re not going to enforce immigration laws even in the nation’s capital. It’s a very strong message that transcends the boundaries of Washington that’s going to affect the nation as a whole.”
I noted that Gray’s order largely confirmed longstanding city government practice, and would probably not change the reality of city policing much.
”Fact of the matter is the District of Columbia has been probably ... operating a sanctuary city,” Stewart said. “It’s all the worse now because here you’ve got a strong message that goes out not just to residents that we’re not going to enforce the U.S. immigration law. That message is heard loud and clear by illegal immigrants who commit crimes as well. ... Look, if you’re an illegal immigrant, you’ve got nothing to fear in Washington, D.C. In fact, you can commit a crime and the police officers are forbidden from checking immigration status.”
Does it matter, I asked, that the District has elected leaders who support the mayor’s decision? That there hasn’t been much public outcry from residents?
”This is U.S. law. Immigration law is not District of Columbia law. This is federal law. We do not have a choice, as far as I’m concerned, about whether or not we want to enforce federal law. It’s our obligation as localities to enforce federal, state and local laws and ultimately to protect the lives and property of citizens. I just cannot believe that the citizens of the District of Columbia would support a policy of looking the other way when you have an illegal immigrant who commits a crime and poses a public safety threat to the community as a whole. ...
“I’ve been living with the issue for four years. I’m going to tell you one thing, one thing that transcends political boundaries is that Republicans, Democrats, independents, conservatives and liberals all agree, for the most part, that if you’re here illegally and commit a crime and you pose a public safety threat, you should be deported. I do not believe [Gray’s] views on this are in line with the citizens of the District of Columbia. ... It’s a far-left extreme position when even liberal Democrats agree that if an illegal immigrant commits and a crime and poses a public safety threat they should be deported.”
I noted that District residents have a habit, upon hearing an outside politician tell them to do something, of doing just the opposite.
”That might be, but I’ve got to speak the truth as I see it. I’m not trying to tell them what to do. I just think it’s reprehensible what the mayor has done.”