By Sandhya Somashekhar
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, July 18, 2007
The Loudoun County Board of Supervisors approved a resolution yesterday that would limit illegal immigrants' access to county services and penalize employers who hire them, becoming the second county in the region to adopt a hard-line position in the wake of Congress's failure to enact immigration reform.
One week after Prince William County officials took a similar step, Loudoun's supervisors voted unanimously for the resolution, which they said was necessary to stop blight and curb crime, especially on the county's border with Herndon and Fairfax County.
Supervisors also said they wanted to prevent tax dollars in the fast-growing county from going to those who have settled in Loudoun illegally.
"We need help in Loudoun. We are struggling. We are a small county, and we can't handle the hordes that are coming here and using up our services," said Eugene A. Delgaudio (R-Sterling), the main sponsor of the resolution. "Illegal immigration is taking a greater and greater toll on our community."
Although no one is sure how many of Loudoun's 270,000 residents are illegal, supervisors say the county has experienced an influx of undocumented Hispanic workers looking for jobs in the construction industry, which has boomed during the county's rapid growth over the past decade. According to the census, about 10 percent of Loudoun's population was Hispanic in 2005, up from about 6 percent in 2000.
The resolution is similar to the one Prince William passed but more vague, with a plan to enact strict new policies after a more detailed discussion in September. It requires the county's staff to study which services can legally be denied to those who are in the country unlawfully and to look for ways to cut off business with employers that hire illegal workers. It also calls for the Loudoun sheriff's office to work more closely with federal immigration authorities to quickly deport criminals who do not have papers.
Supporters of the resolution say the illegal immigrants' presence can be felt most acutely in the eastern part of the county, where they say crowded homes are falling into disrepair and gang violence is rising. Last year, the sheriff's office arrested nearly 50 people who were later deported because of their legal status. Some believe the problem will worsen if Prince William goes forward with its plan and ends up pushing illegal immigrants over its northern border into Loudoun.
"I think this is the first step of Virginians taking back their state," said Joseph W. Budzinski, spokesman for Help Save Loudoun, a group that opposes illegal immigration.
The resolution drew sharp criticism from Hispanic advocates, who said it would foster fear in the community and encourage racial profiling. Laura Valle, executive director of the nonprofit group La Voz of Loudoun, added that it was no simple matter determining who is legal.
"We are not experts. We don't have the capacity to determine the difference between false and real green cards," said Valle, whose group does not inquire about legal status when providing translation and referral services to the Spanish-speaking community.
The new standards could affect those who are in the country legally. Valle's husband, an immigrant from El Salvador, lost his green card and is awaiting a new one. In the meantime, Valle said, he worries what would happen if he were pulled over by police.
"He feels this sort of a gut fear, and this is someone who is fairly well established in the community," she said.
Some supervisors voted reluctantly in favor of the resolution, which was a last-minute addition to the agenda. The proposal was announced in an e-mail sent by Delgaudio on Monday afternoon. By late Monday, all six Republicans on the nine-member board had signed on as co-sponsors. But the board's two independents and lone Democrat were not contacted, and they hurried to study the resolution before yesterday's vote.
Loudoun Supervisor James Burton (I-Blue Ridge) complained that he was being "railroaded" on a complex and sensitive issue. "To be handed a resolution on the day we meet, and to be asked to vote on it without understanding the consequences or the content of that resolution, is irresponsible," he said.
But the resolution's co-sponsors said putting it off until the next meeting in September was unnecessary. The county administrator and attorney will have six weeks to study the issue, they said, allowing the board to make clear-headed decisions in the fall.
"It's time for people like us to stand up and start defending and preserving the communities that we represent," said Mick Staton Jr. (R-Sugarland Run). "Hopefully, if enough local governments in this region and other regions start doing this, maybe the message will get up to those folks on Capitol Hill, and maybe they'll start doing something."
Opponents pointed out that all board seats are up in the fall election, and illegal immigration has become a key campaign issue.
"It's all politics trying to create fear in people," said Thom Beres, chairman of the Loudoun County Democratic Committee. "Where do you draw the line? How do you enforce it? Do you spend millions of dollars trying to enforce it?"
Budzinski and others believe some of the problems in eastern Loudoun stem from the Herndon day-laborer center, where workers -- legal or not -- can go to find landscaping and construction jobs. The site sits on the border with Loudoun. Although Herndon officials have promised to keep clients from entering the building from the Loudoun side, Loudoun residents say the clients often loiter at a 7-Eleven and elsewhere within the county limits.
Yesterday, the board voted to send a letter to Herndon officials urging them to check the immigration status of workers there before providing services.