By Sandhya Somashekhar
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, August 12, 2007
Immigrant advocates and civil liberties activists in Loudoun County are developing plans to fight a proposed county crackdown on illegal immigrants, saying that they hope to dispel widely held misconceptions about the issue.
The Board of Supervisors voted last month to move toward cutting off county services to illegal immigrants where possible and to step up deportations of those who commit crimes.
Opponents of the board's resolution say such measures will encourage racial profiling and engender fear among all immigrants, legal or not. The supervisors say their intent is not to scare legal immigrants but to protect county taxpayers from supporting those who are in the country -- and the county -- illegally.
Two of the groups leading the charge against the board's efforts are La Voz of Loudoun, a Hispanic outreach and advocacy nonprofit organization, and the Cascades-based Virginian Muslim Political Action Committee. Both are organizing events in the next few weeks to promote their cause.
La Voz is sponsoring a panel discussion Thursday about undocumented residents and the issues they present for law enforcement and employers. The group's executive director, Laura Valle, said that the meeting will be strictly informational and that participants will not espouse any political viewpoint.
But she said she hopes that Loudoun residents attending the event, scheduled for 7 p.m. at Ida Lee Recreation Center in Leesburg, will come away with a better understanding of the complexities surrounding the immigration debate, including the nature of immigration status. She also hopes it will persuade supporters of tougher enforcement policies to "take all of this passion and redirect it back to the federal government, where it belongs."
Among the panelists will be Loudoun Sheriff Stephen O. Simpson, a labor union official and a United Methodist Church representative who provides legal services to immigrants. The panel will take questions from the audience. Valle said she hopes to organize a similar meeting in Spanish later.
Supervisor Eugene A. Delgaudio (R-Sterling), the main sponsor of the board's July resolution, said he will not be able to attend the discussion because it is not in his district. He said he tends to stay in Sterling because he is busy serving his constituents. "I wish I could go to everything I'm invited to. I can't," he said.
Delgaudio also said that "special interest groups" with ties to national organizations based outside Loudoun are behind the criticisms of the board's resolution. Those groups are distorting the board's "well-meaning effort to curtail our complicity in defrauding the taxpayers of Loudoun," said Delgaudio, adding that he has received an overwhelmingly positive response from his constituents about the board's actions.
Delgaudio is up for reelection on Nov. 6, as is the rest of the nine-member board.
Mukit Hossain, president of the Virginian Muslim Political Action Committee, said voters are not in favor of an effort that at its core is a "question of fundamental human rights."
"People don't walk around with signs on their backs that say 'illegal,' " he said. The board resolution "almost seeks to dehumanize immigrants in general in the name of targeting illegal immigrants."
His group organized a meeting for national and local activists last month to develop a strategy to fight the resolutions passed by Loudoun and by Prince William County, whose board of supervisors took a similar vote last month. The group, which Hossain said draws its support from the state's Muslim community but sponsors political action on a variety of issues, also has plans for "civic picnics" in Loudoun and Prince William next month to which local political candidates will be invited.
He said the events will focus on education and voter registration, as well as offer the candidates an opportunity to speak to voters.
"We are trying to see if we can create a strong force to become seriously engaged civically leading to the election in November," said Hossain, who also was instrumental in starting the controversial day laborer center in Herndon. "At the end of the day, the real response will be in November."
Hossain's group and La Voz are rallying supporters to attend the Loudoun supervisors' Sept. 4 meeting. At that meeting, the board is expected to hear from county staff members about which services can be cut off to people without legal status and what the financial effect on the county might be.