More than 250 cars, trucks, vans and small business vehicles took to the roads of Prince William County on Tuesday with messages rallying support for immigrants scrawled across fenders, bumpers and doors.
Hundreds of people rode in the caravan, organized by Mexicans Without Borders, a human rights organization that has mobilized residents this year in response to a resolution aimed at cracking down on illegal immigration proposed by Prince William County supervisors.
Pablo Alvarado, 23, said he, his cousin and 14 coworkers took Tuesday off to ride in the caravan and attend a meeting to mobilize opposition to the resolution.
“I’m an American citizen, but I’ve got friends and family who would get deported if this were to pass,” Alvarado said. “A lot of my friends have moved to Fairfax, D.C. and Fredericksburg.”
The spirit of the resolution, although not codified, is already taking effect, he and many others said.
“The laundry places, the Latino places of business are going down because of this,” Alvarado said.
On Oct. 16 supervisors are scheduled to vote creating a criminal alien unit within the county’s police department in order to detain undocumented residents of the county.
That program could cost about $14.2 million over five years, said police Chief Charlie T. Deane.
Last week supervisors formally endorsed the idea of creating that unit — now they face harder questions of financing it as state budget cuts and a lagging housing market loom over the county’s budget.
The board is waiting to vote on that unit until all of the county’s fiscal restraints are outlined for them during budget season, which starts this week, said Supervisor Marty Nohe, R-Coles.
“No tax dollars for racist laws” was one of the messages written in shoe polish on some of the hundreds of vehicles that drove from the county seat to Manassas, south on Va. 234, north on U.S. 1 and back to the McCoart Administrative Complex in mid-county.
“We are not criminals, we are here to work, to make this county look beautiful,” said Jose Urias, 28, an American citizen who has lived in Prince William for six years. “All of the Hispanic people I know are in the home improvement business. We came here when the [home] prices were cheap. Now they are expensive. We made that all together.”
The county’s resolution directs police to check residents’ immigration status and seeks to deny county services to undocumented immigrants.
County Chairman Corey A. Stewart, R-at large, said that once the resolution is in place, the quality of life in Prince William would improve.
“No business wants to locate in an area where the government isn’t doing anything to address its problems,” Stewart said. “In the long run it will make Prince William County a better place to live.”
John Steinbach, a volunteer for Mexicans Without Borders and outreach coordinator for the Woodbridge Workers Committee, said the resolution would backfire.
“You are not going to deport 10 million, 20 million people. We’re not talking about bodies, we’re talking about people, families,” Steinbach said. “The economic cost is going to be catastrophic because this isn’t their parents Prince William County.”
Half of the residents in Prince William are either immigrants or people of color, he said.
Ricardo Juarez-Nava, coordinator for Mexicans Without Borders, criticized Stewart, saying he is responsible for racial tensions related to the resolution.
“His role in this is to facilitate the dialogue within the community and to find a solution to the problems and not promote confrontation,” Juarez-Nava said. “In my point of view, that’s what he’s doing.”
“I think that’s totally wrong. The community backs the resolution. It has nothing to do with legal immigrants or ethnicity,” Stewart said.
He said legal immigrants shouldn’t worry about the police crackdown.
“It’s very important to the board and the police department that the crackdown avoids racial profiling or any other discriminatory action by government officials,” he said.
People are worried because Mexicans Without Borders is mischaracterizing the resolution, he said.
“It’s solely aimed at tracking illegals, which are a drain on the quality of life in the community. It’s not aimed at any ethnicity,” Stewart said.
Maria Duenas, who owns a cleaning business, said she was excited to see so many people from different Spanish-speaking countries convened at the Pfitzner Stadium parking lot before the caravan.
“I pay my taxes every month,” she said. “American people do, and Spanish people do, too.”
Patricia Castandas is a 36-year-old mother of one, who came to the U.S. from Mexico City, Mexico.
She rode in the caravan, timed with the group’s “PWC Day Without Immigrants.”
“We’re working together,” she said. “All of the Latino people contribute to the U.S.A. Maybe people here, U.S.A. citizens, should think about that.”