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Pr. William Hearing Mixes Passion, Political Claptrap

The primary impact of the crackdown, then, will be to drive the illegal population even further underground -- a point Prince William's police chief made when he warned that illegal immigrants would become loath to report abuse, rape and other crimes for fear that any contact with police would lead to deportation.

But there was little talk of particulars as hundreds took their three minutes. This, to Prince William's great credit, was a real, honest, old-fashioned hearing in which everyone got to hear each other. Lately, governments in Fairfax, the District and Maryland have turned to cynical tricks to diffuse and defuse citizens' voices: "breakout groups" and "town hall" sessions in which the public is shunted to little tables and forced to talk to hired consultants rather than elected officials.

At this hearing, there were hundreds of Lucys -- righteous, loud, cocksure -- and precious few Charlie Browns. But there were some; after all, in a recent Washington Post poll of Virginia residents, only 7 percent said illegal immigration is the biggest issue facing the state -- far fewer than mentioned traffic, jobs or schools.

Scott Clark, a defense contractor from Woodbridge, won rapt attention when he described "the Irish and the Italians who came here long ago. The Italians were called wops -- 'without papers.' They were undocumented. A lot of you wouldn't be here if we'd enforced the laws then. Yes, there are problems, but it's not at this level. Better you should push back against the federal government. Make them do what they're supposed to and control the border. Yes, we need English as the primary language. Do that through assimilation. Teach the immigrants how a neighborhood should look."

Clark had never spoken to a government board before. He came because "I just got tired of hearing all this. The people that aren't talking are the silent majority who don't have a problem with illegal immigrants unless they commit a crime. People are angry because of 9/11, and they're crossing wires. Give us a stronger border, but don't polarize the community like this."

As compelling as Clark's message was, it slipped into the stream of words -- the immigrant women who asked the politicians to feel their hands, hardened by hours of scrubbing Americans' floors; the longtime residents who begged to be given back the quiet and security for which they first moved to the county.

And in the small of the night, the politicians did what they do. They voted in unanimous cowardice to take a stand full of sound and fury, creating policy that will frighten many, salve a few and accomplish nothing. Election Day is 19 days away.

Join me at noon today for "Potomac Confidential" at

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