In Herndon, We Respect Immigrants -- and the Rule of Law

Sunday, January 28, 2007

Last spring, before my election as mayor of Herndon, I knocked on hundreds of doors, talking to people I knew well, people I'd met in passing and people I didn't know at all. I visited longtime residents, relative newcomers to our town and, it is important to note, many immigrants who had entered the United States legally and chosen Herndon as the place in which to buy homes and raise their families.

There were differing opinions among those I met. But there were some common threads as well: They all were respectful. Their opinions all seemed to be carefully considered and well-reasoned. None were motivated by hate, nor were they racists.

Yet that is how the people of Herndon, the people I met during the campaign and those who are my neighbors and friends, have been characterized. I take strong exception to that seemingly reflexive characterization.

Is it asking too much to require people to obey the law and enter the country legally? I don't think so, nor do many of my constituents. This does not mean we are unwelcoming to immigrants, nor does it mean we are against any ethnic group. It means that we respect and seek to follow the law of the land.

The efforts we have undertaken in Herndon since my colleagues on the Town Council and I took office on July 1 do not deal with federal immigration policy. Our efforts instead deal with the detrimental effect the state and federal governments' abject failure to enforce immigration laws has on a local community.

Workable, enforceable reforms to immigration laws and policies must be enacted. The town of Herndon believes that the ability of illegal aliens to work in the United States is the central problem. Businesses must be brought into the process to make them responsible for their actions with respect to hiring illegal aliens. Legislation and enforcement are needed to prevent document fraud and abuse or circumvention of the federal I-9 process (which requires employers to verify employees' eligibility to work in the United States). The federal government must control our borders; our nation needs more effective laws -- and consistent and vigorous enforcement of those laws -- for dealing with the millions of illegal aliens already in our country.

Until this happens, towns and cities across America, including Herndon, must struggle to find solutions to the impact that the unchecked influx of illegal aliens has had on our communities. Here in Herndon one mechanism by which we are able to do this is to require that all workers show legal documentation during the hiring process at the town's official day worker center. That is why we are seeking to find a new operator for the site, an operator who will agree to check for legal eligibility to work in the United States. We are not looking to close the site; rather, our intent is to modify its operations to conform to the law -- the law that my colleagues on the Town Council and I as mayor have sworn to uphold.

Herndon welcomes immigrants. We celebrate the diverse cultures of our town. But we are no longer willing to tolerate illegal behavior. Illegal immigrants need to go through the process that allows them to live and work in the United States legally. After they do that, we, the citizens of Herndon, will welcome them into our community.

-- Stephen J. DeBenedittis

Herndon

The writer is the mayor of the town

of Herndon. His e-mail address ismayor.steve@herndon-va.gov.


© 2007 The Washington Post Company