At Immigration Session, Much Ado for Naught

By Sandhya Somashekhar
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, September 9, 2007

Where was everyone?

Extra sheriff's deputies were on hand Tuesday for the Loudoun County supervisors' much-anticipated meeting on illegal immigration. That was partly because thousands of protesters had swarmed Prince William County's government building two days earlier over the same issue. And hundreds had showed up at a similar supervisors' meeting in Prince William a month ago.

But all that security turned out to be unnecessary. Very few people attended the Loudoun session, and only about 10 spoke during the public comment period about the Board of Supervisors' plans to crack down on illegal immigrants. There wasn't a protest sign in sight.

Why the disparity? Well, for one thing, Prince William was the first to grab headlines this summer by promising to cut county services to illegal immigrants and step up deportations. Loudoun followed with a similar resolution a week later.

The main reason, though, is probably the lack of a vocal Loudoun political group rallying the troops against the measure.

In Prince William, there's Mexicans Without Borders, a group that helped draw crowds to last Sunday's protest in Manassas. Early on, some activists thought that La Voz of Loudoun -- a Hispanic advocacy group that warned that strict new county rules could lead to racial profiling -- might play a similar organizing role in Loudoun.

It has not. As a tax-exempt 501(c)(3) organization, La Voz is not allowed to engage in "substantial" lobbying. As it is, some critics have accused the group of taking too political a role and have called for its county funding to be revoked. Leaders of La Voz, however, have said that they are trying only to educate the community.

On Tuesday, La Voz Executive Director Laura Valle sat in the audience but did not speak.

"We accomplished what we had hoped to accomplish, which is education," Valle said. "We didn't ever plan on speaking."

She did say, however, that there was "a pitiful turnout on both sides" at Tuesday's meeting.

Maybe, but supporters of a crackdown definitely won the turnout contest. Most of the speakers who addressed the board were members of Help Save Loudoun, a vocal opponent of illegal immigrants.

A Lone, Dissenting Voice

Many Loudoun supervisors made fiery statements when the board adopted its resolution on illegal immigration in July. By comparison, the supervisors' debate Tuesday was subdued, culminating in a decision to put off further discussion until Sept. 19.

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