But other county Republicans say they support the proposal. Thomas says he likes what he is hearing from U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio (Fla.) and hopes a path to citizenship can be achieved in a measured way.
“I think folks realize that you can’t keep having the same debate year after year,” he said. “The demographics are changing. . . . We’ve got to figure out a way to assimilate these folks.”
The study by the University of Virginia, commissioned by the county, found that while in 2007 and 2008 Hispanics in Prince William reported a plunge in their quality of life and their level of trust in police, these measures have since bounced back. Levels for other groups remained relatively steady. The study noted that immigrants make up only a small percentage of those arrested for serious crimes.
Police officials in Prince William argue that it was outreach and empathy, not force and fear, that enabled them to weed out serious lawbreakers without losing the confidence of most Latinos. (The department ended its affiliation with the federal ICE program last year.)
“We tried to calm these fears and explain exactly what we would and would not do,” Deane said. “As a result, we were able to regain the Hispanic community’s trust and build respect on both sides.”
Thomas, who also chairs the City of Manassas Republican Committee, said that as the conversation has moved on to the national arena, “I think that folks on my side of the debate are a little bit more open . . . The citizens that were involved on the other side, they’re our neighbors. They’re not bad people, they just disagree.”
Schlossberg, the activist who once received threatening e-mails, said she hopes the lessons of her community will be reflected on the national stage.
“I think what you see is the country going the way of Prince William County, where things got really heated, and I think even the people who believed immigration should be dealt with started getting uncomfortable with all the rhetoric,” she said.
“There is a sense that we engaged in a nasty debate, and sanity won.”