Anti-immigrant forces on the offensive in Northern Virginia
Corey Stewart, former chair of the Trump campaign in Virginia, at RNC headquarters on October 10, 2016. | Screenshot from Fox News 5.

While the tealeaf reading on the hot topic of who is going to get what cabinet post in the new Trump administration goes on, things are moving with lightning speed in some areas of the country.

One of these areas is Prince William County in Virginia – where I live.

Prince William is somewhere between a suburb and an exurb of Washington D.C. Interstate 95, the main superhighway from the Northeast to the Southeast, runs through parts of it. Although it contains some very high income communities, it also is set to become the first county in Virginia to transition to “majority minority.” To the East of I-95, and toward the shores of the Potomac River, there are lower to middle income working class communities which are heavily African-American and Latino, and growing more so. The latter group is predominantly Central American, and many adults are first-generation immigrants. There are also Asian and African immigrants, as well as lower income working class whites.

That’s where I live; those are my neighbors, who mostly get along well together across racial and ethnic lines.

Now many of those neighbors are in immediate danger from racist and anti-immigrant bigots who are fired up by the Trump election.

Prince William County is governed by a Board of Supervisors. Some of the towns within the county have municipal governments; others are governed directly by the Prince William County Board of Supervisors. The community where I live is in the latter category.

In spite of the status of the county as a majority minority community, the Republican Party holds six of the eight seats on the Board of Supervisors. The chairman of the Board is Corey Stewart.

Stewart is a piece of work.

He was first elected in 2006 and immediately decided that his main task was to rid Prince William County of “illegal immigrants,” who he claimed were causing a spike in crime in the county. He pioneered the idea of using a local police force, in this case the Prince William County Sheriff’s Office, to do the dirty work. In 2007, he ordered the Sheriff’s Office to go after “illegal immigrants.” The method was to demand the immigration papers of anybody the police stopped, including for routine traffic infractions. This led to widespread racial profiling and police harassment of immigrants in the community.

When I first moved into Prince William County at the beginning of 2012, the impact of this could be seen by the number of small shops that had catered to the immigrant community but had gone bust as their customers had fled the county. Other local and state governments later used the Prince William County get-tough approach as models for their own nasty racial profiling strategies.

Corey Stewart bragged that his campaign against “illegal immigrants” had drastically cut the crime rate in Prince William County, but more sober study proved this to be highly exaggerated. Moreover, the fear that it had generated among the public led to a deterioration of police-community relations.

This year, Stewart had another role to play, that of the Virginia chair of Donald Trump’s campaign committee. Toward the end of the campaign, Trump’s campaign fired Stewart from this position, essentially for being too extreme and provocative – for out-Trumping Trump, in other words. Stewart did not miss a beat; he is running for the Republican nomination in next year’s Virginia gubernatorial elections, and has made it clear that he will run on the “illegal immigration” issue.

So it came as no surprise that scarcely twenty-four hours after Trump’s electoral victory, Corey Stewart was making news by more provocative anti-immigrant statements.

One that caught the attention of the immigrant community was this: “If I were an illegal alien in Prince William County, I’d get out… With a friendly administration [in Washington] we’ll be able to go gangbusters.”

Immigrants’ rights and Latino organizations denounced this statement, but the situation may become very dangerous. In some parts of the country, local mayors and police chiefs have come to the defense of immigrants, refusing to yield to Trump’s demand to end the “sanctuary city” movement. However, in communities like mine, where the local political leaders are viciously anti-immigrant, no such cover is given.

On top of the increased federal enforcement activity that Trump has been threatening, some local police in places like Prince William County may “go gangbusters” in persecuting immigrant families here – my neighbors, in other words (to be fair, the police in Prince William County were not very happy about the immigrant enforcement role Stewart foisted on them).  And all over the country there are reports of vigilantism, and even of Latino children being harassed in school by other children who taunt them with deportation threats.

If Stewart is going to run a gubernatorial campaign based on anti-immigrant hysteria, the situation could get much worse.

This should be considered an emergency threat to civil liberties. Not only immigrant, Latino, Asian-American and other directly threatened communities should be (and are) mobilizing, but all progressive and fair minded people should be ready to lend maximum support and solidarity, starting even before the presidential inauguration.


CONTRIBUTOR

Emile Schepers
Emile Schepers

Emile Schepers is a veteran civil and immigrant rights activist. Emile Schepers was born in South Africa and has a doctorate in cultural anthropology from Northwestern University. He has worked as a researcher and activist in urban, working-class communities in Chicago since 1966. He is active in the struggle for immigrant rights, in solidarity with the Cuban Revolution and a number of other issues. He now writes from Northern Virginia.

 

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