Taking a Stand on Illegal Immigration

Greg Letiecq formed Help Save Manassas out of what he calls "a huge amount of frustration among residents" over congestion and crowding.
Greg Letiecq formed Help Save Manassas out of what he calls "a huge amount of frustration among residents" over congestion and crowding. (By Jahi Chikwendiu -- The Washington Post)
By Jennifer Buske
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, April 27, 2008

It was a dramatic change in his Prince William County neighborhood that got Greg Letiecq thinking about immigration almost three years ago.

After going to government officials with concerns about crowded homes and congested streets, Letiecq said, officials' lack of response made him realize it was time to take the matter into his own hands.

"A number of houses in my neighborhood became overcrowded. . . . When we tried to contact the government, nothing was happening," Letiecq said. "There was a huge amount of frustration among residents, so I tried to figure out what we could do about it."

Letiecq united unhappy residents around the region, he said, by forming Help Save Manassas. He noted that similar groups were in place: Help Save Herndon and Help Save Loudoun.

Help Save Manassas, whose Web site says it has almost 2,000 members, is marking its first anniversary this month.

"This has been successful beyond our wildest dreams," said Letiecq, the group's president. "We were in a world of hurt here a year ago, but neighborhoods are now recovering, and the quality of life has improved so much."

Over the past year, Letiecq said, one of the biggest breakthroughs was a resolution approved by Prince William supervisors in July. The resolution allows law enforcement officials to check the legal status of anyone in police custody and allows the county to deny certain public services to illegal immigrants. Letiecq and his group researched, facilitated and wrote parts of the resolution, working with the Washington-based Immigration Reform Law Institute.

Although Letiecq and members of the organization consider the past year to have been full of successes, others, including Mauricio Vivero, have a different opinion.

"Local police shouldn't be doing civil immigration enforcement. If you commit a crime, you go to jail and they check immigration status," said Vivero, executive director of Ayuda, a nonprofit law firm serving immigrants. "If you create an environment that's perceived as anti-immigrant, then you turn away people who are legal but don't want to come because they feel they aren't being respected."

Nancy Lyall, legal coordinator for the pro-immigrant group Mexicans Without Borders, said the past year has been devastating to Prince William and immigrants alike. Houses are empty, and immigrants won't report crimes or be witnesses because they are afraid of the police, she said.

"The resolution has devastated the county economically, and not just the Latino community but the entire community," Lyall said. The Help Save Manassas "concept of 'great' is having a community with a lot less brown people, and that's not what I consider great."

Letiecq, also the creator of the conservative blog Black Velvet Bruce Li, said people can walk down the street and notice the changes: Graffiti is disappearing, the number of students for whom English is a second language is declining and crime is down. The drop in crime is reflected in Manassas Police Chief John J. Skinner's recent report showing that the city's crime rate dipped to a five-year low in 2007.

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