Today, Morales’s fear has abated, and so has Thomas’s frustration.
Thomas says the rental houses on his street in Manassas no longer have multiple families and neighbors have resolved their differences. “I’ve actually become pretty good friends with some of the people who were on the other side of the issue,” he said.
Morales, 44, who stopped to chat recently while browsing among guavas and chilies in a Woodbridge supermarket, no longer looks over his shoulder. “We are not afraid of the police anymore,” he said. “My family is all here, and I have a good job. I have faith that Mr. Obama will fulfill his promise so I can be legal, too.”
Prince William has changed dramatically since 2007, when officials, responding to a massive influx of poor and often undocumented Hispanics, passed an unusually tough ordinance aimed at driving them out. The action helped spur similar efforts in Arizona and Alabama, spread panic among Latinos and created emotional confrontations that tore at the fabric of this Northern Virginia county of 400,000.
Today, as Congress struggles with how to handle the nation’s 11 million illegal immigrants, Prince William’s remarkable journey offers a lesson in compromise. The county ultimately paired tougher enforcement regulations with a more inclusive and tolerant approach, a combination that in many ways reflects the current bipartisan proposal.
After a contentious trial run, the initial law was softened. Meanwhile, zoning codes were toughened, reducing overcrowding and other problems that had accompanied the immigrant wave.
Prince William has emerged as a more tolerant mosaic. The immigrant population has remained steady at about 20 percent, and the mix still includes many illegal immigrants, but some have become legal residents and U.S. citizens by now.
“At the time of the anti-immigrant bill, even U.S. citizens felt unwanted. Now the fear is leaving and people are getting back to business,” said Carlos Castro, 50, a naturalized U.S. citizen from El Salvador who owns several supermarkets in Prince William. “Despite all the suffering and anguish, our community is stronger and others are more accepting of us.”
Tension and polarization
The 2007 ordinance transformed the county into an ideological war zone, sparking boycotts and threats and emptying out entire residential streets.