F.C. Council Votes to Repudiate Immigration

Unanimous in Strongly-Worded Support of Integration, Inclusion

As if in direct defiance of a Virginia Crime Commission call earlier the same day for state trooper enforcement of federal immigration laws, the Falls Church City Council passed unanimously a strongly-worded resolution Tuesday night rejecting “the enactment of any policies that would cause employees of the City to carry out responsibilities of federal immigration authorities.”

Following on similar resolutions passed in Alexandria and Arlington supporting the integration and inclusion of immigrants, Falls Church’s may be the most strongly-worded yet repudiating the climate of “profiling and anger,” as one Councilman put it, directed against immigrants in some Virginia jurisdictions.

The resolution, in its own words, “petitions the government of the U.S. to reform its immigration laws to provide a coherent, worthy and enforceable system of regulating the migration of people, in order to secure to our nation now and in the future, the economic, social, cultural, religious and other blessings and contributions of the many peoples of the world.”

At the Council’s request, City Manager Wyatt Shields presented a draft resolution “in support of immigrant residents” at a work session last week, which Council members said was not worded strongly enough.

Shields presented a revised version Tuesday that included more emphatic language. Even though two Council members were not present Tuesday, as both Hal Lippman and David Snyder were out of the country on business, all weighed in with their resolute support for the resolution.

The statement calls upon the federal government to enact and enforce immigration laws that “recognize the inherent rights of all people as protected by the U.S. Constitution.”

“The resolution not only reflects how everyone on the Council feels, but also how our community feels as a whole,” Mayor Robin Gardner said Tuesday.

Councilman David Chavern said that proposals to draw state and local governments into enforcement of federal immigration laws, as the Virginia Crime Commission recommended Tuesday, are “dumb as a box of rocks.”

He said that where jurisdictions are attempting to do that, “They are being mean in an attempt to get immigrants to go elsewhere.”

Councilman Dan Maller said, “This is the heart and soul of what our government should be doing. There is little doubt in the history of our country that immigration law has too often been a tool and proxy for racism.”

Councilman Dan Sze expressed his appreciation for the resolution during the work session the week before, noting that he, himself, is an immigrant, his family having come to the U.S. from Korea after the war there.

Vice Mayor Lindy Hockenberry said she is “very concerned by what is being done in some other jurisdictions.”

Mayor Gardner added, “We’ve always been a community of inclusion, and I’d like to believe the nation is, too. A tiered system of providing services in our community is immoral.”

The language in the resolution reads, “Many aspects of the history of the U.S. immigration law and policy is less than exemplary of our ideals as expressed by our founding fathers and as understood by this unanimous City Council.”

It says the City will continue “the provision of services such as temporary and permanent housing assistance, emergency needs assistance, disability services, employment services, health care resources, mental health services, substance abuse services and transportation services to all entitled city residents.”

It notes that the City’s Vision Statement adopted in November 2006 calls for the city government to “actively reach out to the citizenry to ensure that the whole community is engaged,” italicizing “the whole community.”

“Falls Church is a place where people of all means and backgrounds are welcomed,” it goes on. “Racial, ethnic, economic and other facets of human experience enrich the community by providing it with a diverse mix of outlooks and views on world, national and local issues and problems…The City staff and its contractors will continue to administer City services in a way that is responsive to the needs of the City’s diverse community and make efforts to provide these services in various language formats.”

In his report to the Council prior to the vote, Shields noted that “programs funded by local dollars do not discriminate on the basis of legal status,” and that the City “also actively promotes language accessibility through Language Line access and provision of written materials in other languages.”

He added that the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled “that all schools must enroll all resident children without regard to citizenship status and have policies and programs to provide English instruction for both students and adults.”

The spirit and content of the Falls Church resolution come in direct contradiction to those of the GOP-dominated Virginia Crime Commission’s recommendations issued in Richmond Tuesday, and a law passed in Prince William County empowering police officers there to check the immigration status of anyone suspected of breaking any law, no matter how minor, if they believe that person might be in the country illegally.

The Crime Commission recommendation is that checks be limited to people suspected of committing violent, drug-related or gang-related crimes. The commission is chaired by Republican State Del. David Albo of Springfield, who was re-elected last week, running unopposed.

After the vote Tuesday, Mayor Gardner tasked the City staff with making sure there was widespread notification of the Falls Church Council’s action to surrounding jurisdictions and regions.

In other actions Tuesday, the Falls Church City Council:

* Approved a $9 million bond issue to cover the City water system’s share of a court-mandated solid waste treatment program instituted by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. The total cost is $100 million, shared proportionally by the three systems who use the Army’s Corps water at the Dalcarlia Reservoir, the District of Columbia, Arlington and Falls Church systems.

* Revised the special exception granted in 2004 to Waterford Development for the construction of The Spectrum, now going up at 444 W. Broad St. The revision allows for both retail and retail services on a small portion of first floor space facing W. Broad, thus clearing the way for the location of a bank branch there. Representing Waterford, Chris Ciliberti also noted the near-term completion of the parameters of the “market square” feature of the new development, also noting that 20-foot high ceilings in the project’s retail spaces will “provide for the needs of the future, not just tomorrow” in the City’s evolving retail mix.