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Pr. William Enacts Resolution Aimed at Illegal Immigrants
But the real drama was in Prince William, and it wasn't confined to the street. When the board's chairman, Corey A. Stewart (R), who has made illegal immigration the signature issue of his reelection campaign, moved at the outset to reduce the time allotted for each speaker during the public comment period from three minutes to one, Supervisor Maureen S. Caddigan (R-Dumfries) sought to block the measure.
Caddigan and other board members have criticized Stewart for using $30,000 in public money to send postcards to every Prince William household notifying residents of the board's vote. Stewart should not invite residents to the meeting and then restrict their right to speak, Caddigan argued.
The motion was put to a vote, and five of the board's other seven members, including three Republicans, agreed with Caddigan.
At one point in the session, Supervisor Hilda M. Barg (D-Woodbridge) said Stewart had left the board chambers to conduct television interviews and asked to delay proceedings until he returned.
The measures approved yesterday improve cooperation with federal immigration authorities and direct police to check the immigration status of anyone accused of breaking the law if the officer suspects that person is an illegal immigrant. They also would deny certain county services to illegal immigrants, including drug counseling, some elderly services, and business licenses.
With the Nov. 6 election approaching and all of the supervisors up for reelection, the county's illegal-immigration policies have become a dominant campaign issue. Stewart has pushed hard for the county's new measures to be approved before Election Day, angering fellow board members.
But for hours yesterday afternoon and deep into the night, the podium belonged to residents, highlighting how visceral the issue has become. The list of speakers grew longer after the workday ended, as scores of Hispanic immigrants arrived to urge the supervisors to vote no, many speaking through translators. Children of immigrants, standing on stools, asked board members not to hurt their parents.
Others pointed out that illegal immigrants are breaking the law. "Where do you get off demanding services, rights and mandatory citizenship?" said Manassas resident Robert Stephens, addressing the large crowd of Hispanic residents. "Who invited you? You cry for your rights? You have none."
People spilled out of the board's chambers and the building's atrium, which together hold several hundred people. The much larger crowd of resolution opponents responded to speakers with clapping, cheers -- even boos -- well after midnight.
Residents on both sides of the debate told weary-looking supervisors of their families' immigrant backgrounds, their values, and their frustrations.
One woman said she had time to go home and prepare dinner for her family before coming back to address the board. Another woman showed up dressed as the Statue of Liberty. An African-born man who said he was a disabled Iraq War veteran berated the supervisors to raucous late-night applause.
Even more people were in attendance yesterday than at the board's July 10 meeting, when the supervisors unanimously approved the plans to deny some public services to illegal immigrants and increase immigration enforcement by police. The July vote prompted similar proposals in Loudoun and Culpeper counties and elsewhere in the region.