National Commentary

Nicholas F. Benton: Immigration & Racism

It was the perceptive Aldous Huxley who wrote that the greatest discovery in life is to learn that you’ve always been exactly where you are supposed to be.

Behold, in Northern Virginia, across the Potomac River from the nation’s capital, I am supposed to be in Falls Church, where I launched my weekly newspaper almost 17 years ago, and I am not supposed to be in nearby Herndon or Prince William County.

That’s been confirmed for me by the radically different approaches the aforementioned jurisdictions, all relatively close by, have taken on the matter of immigration. To me, such an issue, insofar as it involves dispositions and relationships between persons on the most fundamentally human level, is decisive for life itself.

Herndon and Prince William have enacted mean-spirited laws that subject the entire immigrant populations of those places, legal and otherwise, to intimidation and discrimination. In doing this, they’re following suit with similar nasty initiatives underway all over the country, incited by right wing Republicans mostly, and blowhard sycophants like CNN commentator Lou Dobbs.

Prince William leaders have defied existing laws to mandate their police subject anyone suspected of committing a crime, no matter how trivial, to an investigation of their legal standing in the country. That is a call for the most brazen, discriminatory form of racial and ethnic “profiling” excess, targeting an entire ethnic class. Based on outward physical characteristics, the police in the county are required to check the immigration status of anyone stopped for speeding, or suspected of shoplifting.

Most recently, this week a GOP-dominated Virginia Crime Commission revealed that it intends to pressure Democratic Governor Tim Kaine to cave into its set of recommendations, which include the use of state troopers to help enforce federal immigration laws in ways similar to Prince William County. The only difference is that the commission wants to restrict background checks to suspected perpetrators of more serious crimes.

Kaine and other Democratic success stories in Virginia the last few years can credit the state’s most progressive region, that around my home of Falls Church, along with Arlington, Alexandria and eastern Fairfax County, with their overall margins of victory.

So that’s why it is doubly important that Falls Church followed suit with Alexandria and Arlington, its City Council unanimously adopting a very strongly worded repudiation of the racist underpinnings of many immigration laws over the years. “Many aspects of the history of U.S. immigration law and policy are less than exemplary of our ideals as expressed by our founding fathers,” it reads.

It goes on to assert that the jurisdiction is resolved, in programs funded by local dollars, to provide essential services to persons without regard for legal status, as well as providing language accessibility and allowing all resident children to enroll in its schools without regard to citizenship.

It concludes, “The City of Falls Church hereby 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 into the future the economic, social, cultural, religious and other blessings and contributions of the many peoples of our world.”

Thus, little Falls Church, with its 11,000 people, stands up, looks out over the Potomac, and waves a strong finger at Washington.

And, looking the other way, it is the proverbial tail wagging the dog. Falls Church and its feisty neighbors, having given Gov. Kaine and other Democrats their margins of victory, now buoys their collective resistance to those in Virginia who would have it repeat some of the uglier aspects of its past.

It’s an uphill battle. Somewhere around 80% of Americans think that state and local authorities ought to intervene on behalf of the federal government on the immigration issue. It is no time for equivocation or timid steps. It is the kind of bold action little Falls Church has taken that will make a difference in how people think.

And, oh yeah, Lou Dobbs: if you want to fight for the disappearing American middle class, why don’t you try locking horns with the 1% of the nation’s superrich who are actually causing it, rather than inciting political riots against the most vulnerable.