The county’s red-hot economy had produced a housing and construction boom that triggered a wave of immigration, legal and illegal. But once the law was passed, Latinos left in droves, leaving Castro with a choice: adjust his business model or go bankrupt.
Five years later, Castro’s stores are doing well and serve a clientele that is roughly half Hispanic. His freezers are filled not only with Latino delicacies but also with more mainstream fare — Stouffer’s frozen dinners and T.G.I. Friday’s chicken bites.
“We hit the nail on the head,” Castro said Tuesday, crediting his survival to a spirit of compromise that ultimately prevailed in Prince William.
Latinos have started to return as the county’s economy slowly recovers, but the scars from 2007 remain.
After the immigration law was passed, a wave of protest from Latino groups and advocates — and a concern about racial profiling voiced by the county police chief — triggered a compromise: Police wouldn’t check the immigration status of anyone they thought might be illegal, but everyone arrested would be run through a federal immigration database. Those identified as being in the country illegally would be turned over to federal authorities.
Monday’s Supreme Court ruling struck down aspects of Arizona’s law but left in place something similar to Prince William’s statute: Police will be required to check the immigration status of people they detain and suspect to be in the country illegally.
Corey A. Stewart, chairman of the Prince William Board of County Supervisors, said he’s glad the county reached a compromise, although he doesn’t necessarily disagree with Arizona’s position. He said 4,700 arrestees have been turned over to federal immigration services.
“Ultimately the improvement in public safety and in the business climate is going to yield positive results for Arizona, just as it has for Prince William County,” he said.
Castro said the immediate effect of Prince William’s crackdown could have driven him out of business. But he adapted by asking non-Latino customers what products they wanted most in his store. He wouldn’t have thought to stock things such as Hot Pockets and ready-to-eat meats, but he listened to their feedback.
Now, the 57-year-old former illegal immigrant said that business is back and the environment in Prince William is much less tense.
“A lot of people got involved and made sure our community didn’t unravel,” Castro said. “I think we have learned to live together, and I feel really comfortable in Prince William County.”