As memories of Prince William’s divisive battles recede, many non-immigrants say the issue of illegal immigration has faded.
At the food court in the Potomac Mills shopping center in Woodbridge, college student Kendra Miles, 19, said that when she moved to the area five years ago, she often heard people complain about immigrants “hanging out on the streets.” Today, she said, “I think they’re just part of the culture.”
Robert Weiss, 55, who owns an equipment-repair business, was eating at a nearby table. He said he had supported the original law but now favors offering illegal immigrants a path to citizenship — as long as they don’t jump ahead of legal immigrants who have been waiting their turn.
“It can’t be an easy solution,” Weiss said, adding that it would be wrong to reward those who broke U.S. immigration laws.
Some of the concerns about illegal immigrants still linger. At a smoke-filled billiard parlor in Woodbridge, Jan Hayes, a 30-year-old restaurant cook, said he feared his job would be taken by an illegal immigrant willing to work for lower wages. “They’re kind of taking over,” he said.
But Barbara Parsels, a floral designer from Manassas, said she felt the influx of immigrant labor had played a positive role in the county’s economic progress.
“I’m all for strengthening our borders and checking ID, so I think that’s all good,” Parsels said. “But for the people who are already here and working to be able to get a way to stay? I think that’s good too.”
These days, many in Prince William look at the burgeoning national debate on immigration and recognize the arc of their own journey — the heated rhetoric, the hurt feelings, the clashes of ideology, and the eventual agreement to search for common ground.
With the softening of the original law and the reduction in social problems since then, both sides have claimed a measure of victory.
“The number of illegal aliens seems to be lower than it was,” said Greg Letiecq, who headed Help Save Manassas and was one of the law’s most vocal proponents. “Day laborer activity has decreased, and residential overcrowding . . . seems to be almost entirely abated.”
Stewart, who is currently running for Virginia lieutenant governor, said he intends to keep the issue alive in the race. Both he and Letiecq blasted moderate Republicans who have endorsed a bipartisan proposal for a path to legalization for those now here illegally.