Activists Want Answers on Panel Choice
Group Seeks Reasons for Naming Illegal-Immigration Critic to Human Services Duties

By Kristen Mack
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Prince William activists are demanding that the Board of County Supervisors explain during today's board meeting their appointment of a provocative critic of illegal immigration to a panel that will craft the county's human services policy.

The appointment of Robert L. Duecaster, a leader of the anti-illegal immigration group Help Save Manassas, was discussed in closed session last week before a public vote, a rarity for a board that usually approves such items with little comment. The board approved the naming of Duecaster to the human services strategic goals task force by a vote of 5 to 3.

Nearly 70 people have signed an online petition asking supervisors to make personal statements about last Tuesday's vote at the meeting. Several are expected to show up to speak against the appointment.

Duecaster, 58, was nominated by Supervisor John T. Stirrup Jr. (R-Gainesville). Each supervisor appoints a resident of his or her district to serve on one of four strategic goals task forces, which are charged with "composing the community outcomes and strategies." The strategic goals will guide policy and budget decisions for the next four years.

Duecaster, a lawyer and secretary of Help Save Manassas, crafted the county's original illegal immigration enforcement resolution, which would have compelled county schools and agencies to verify the immigration status of anyone who wanted to use their services. The resolution was diluted last summer and revised again in April because of fears of racial profiling.

Duecaster has advocated for the strictest allowable enforcement and has made controversial comments during citizens' time at board meetings.

He has referred to illegal immigrants as the "scourge that's plaguing neighborhoods" and an "invasion of this country."

"This invasion is not armed, but they've got weapons," he said. "The weapons they use are their anchor babies."

Duecaster also blogs on a Prince William site under the name "Advocator." One blog entry under that pseudonym suggested an investigation into "whether or not illegal aliens have a preferred breeding season." Another read: "It's not time yet to storm the castle, but sharpen your pitchforks and clean off the shovels."

He said later in an interview that the comment was meant as a metaphor. "It certainly was not meant to be taken literally," he said. "

In an interview after his appointment, Duecaster said he wants to "serve the interest of legal residents of this county."

Elena Schlossberg-Kunkel, one of the people behind the online petition, said she wants supervisors who voted for Duecaster to make individual statements about his "intolerant comments."

"Don't hide behind the rubber-stamping of appointments," she said. "This is giving them an opportunity to say we distance ourselves from these comments."

Supervisor Martin E. Nohe said he voted for Duecaster out of respect for Stirrup, "not because I believe [Duecaster] represents my values or the values of this community."

Nohe (R-Coles) said he remains conflicted about his vote.

"It's important that we not create a new standard that every appointee becomes a product of high-level scrutiny," Nohe said. "The case we have here is one where the question was, does this person's opinions and world view disqualify them from service in this role."

Supervisor Frank J. Principi (D-Woodbridge) said it should. He voted against Duecaster's appointment, citing his incendiary comments and his lack of experience in human services. Principi also expressed concern that Duecaster's "extremist views will besmirch the reputation of this county."

Individuals questioning the appointment are engaging in "character assassination," Stirrup said. "He's a very capable individual and was one of the first to contact me saying he was willing to serve and put his expertise to use."

Chairman Corey A. Stewart (R-At Large) said the board should defer to the supervisor making the appointment.

"We have to trust that the supervisor nominating the person has properly vetted the person and not second-guess them," he said. "If we start challenging one another's appointments, we could get bogged down into a debate on each person."

View all comments that have been posted about this article.

© 2008 The Washington Post Company