Reclaiming Our County

Sunday, July 15, 2007

The rule of law is a difficult thing for a democracy to ignore. As the oldest democracy on Earth, we Americans recognize the rule of law and honor and embrace it. In Prince William County, we're acting to reaffirm our commitment to the rule of law.

We are proud of our nation's long history of embracing legal immigrants. The United States is unparalleled in terms of the generosity, compassion and opportunity it offers those who enter legally. Indeed, legal immigration has helped to make America what it is today. As President Ronald Reagan said, we are that "shining city on a hill." We are a beacon of hope for the world to emulate, and in places desolate and hot, wretched and poor, peoples from all walks of life want only one thing: to become Americans.

Consider the expression "only in America": Here, anyone, of any background, race, creed or religion, can accomplish anything they set out to achieve. Let's never lose sight of how uniquely fortunate we are to be Americans.

And all that America asks in return is that you establish legal citizenship. Once you become a citizen, your opportunities to pursue the American dream are limited only by your imagination.

Two weeks ago, as we celebrated the 231st anniversary of the signing of the Declaration of Independence, it was heartening to read story after story of individuals from all corners of the world who had applied legally and waited, in many cases for years, for the chance to raise their right hands and swear allegiance to the United States of America and become U.S. citizens. Those who choose to avoid the process of establishing legal citizenship get stuck in the limbo of a permanent underclass of below-market, off-the-books compensation, substandard housing, limited upward mobility and no opportunity to pursue the American dream. On the macro level, illegal immigrants who enter Prince William seeking economic opportunities would probably be far better off if they stayed in their home countries and helped to bring about economic change there.

The problem of illegal immigrants in Prince William is exacerbated by their general disregard for the rule of law, abuse of taxpayer-funded services and obvious lack of interest in seeking citizenship or ever embracing American ideals. Rather, it seems their sole motivation is economic. Last year, illegal immigrants sent an estimated $45 billion out of the U.S. economy to their home countries.

Last week, the Prince William County Board of Supervisors unanimously approved a resolution that I presented to increase immigration enforcement, limit services to illegal immigrants and reaffirm the rule of law. We in Prince William are making a conscious decision about the future of our county and our communities. Left unchecked, illegal immigration will almost certainly put our county on a downward spiral, similar to the patterns to be found in the Third World countries these illegal immigrants left. Our citizens want to reclaim their neighborhoods and communities, and they recognize the federal government's inability or unwillingness to resolve or even address this chronic problem. They will no longer accept inaction. They want us to act, and so we are.

We recognize that one local jurisdiction cannot solve the problem of uncontrolled borders, but we can address our corner of America. We hope that other jurisdictions will be emboldened to act similarly.

-- John T. Stirrup

Gainesville

The writer, a Republican, is a Prince William County supervisor. He will take questions at 1 p.m. tomorrow on washingtonpost.com.


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