As Connolly shows, while other Northern Virginia municipalities, such as Manassas, and counties like Prince William and Loudon, prefer to exploit illegal immigration for political gain, using it as a wedge issue to whip up fear and prejudice in their citizens, Fairfax County has been quietly working on solutions that benefit its citizens. The difference is that Democratically controlled Fairfax doesn’t have to resort to fear tactics the way Loudon and Prince William do because they are focusing on positive approaches to dealing with the effects of illegal immigration. Here are Connolly’s own words on the topic:
Fairfax County’s approach to illegal immigration is pretty straightforward: We are taking action when we find people behaving illegally, regardless of their immigration status. We are employing local resources in a strategic fashion to address illegal situations in our neighborhoods. Like others in the region, we are cooperating with the federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement Agency (ICE), but we are doing so without the specter of racial profiling or inciting fear in our immigrant communities.As Connolly explains, Fairfax has chosen to concentrate on pragmatic efforts that don’t violate the Constitution or step on the jurisdiction of the federal government. At the county level, the Board of Supervisors has chosen to cut the rate of gang involvement among youth from 5.6% to half that amount by implementing after school programs in county-wide middle schools and working with community partners to provide other constructive opportunities for young people.
In addition, the BOS has set up a rapid response team to crack down on illegal boarding house operations. Thirty-six cases have been resolved, 18 are in litigation and 128 are under investigation. The county’s public safety agencies work with ICE and the sheriff reports up to 50 illegal immigrants a month to ICE for follow up action. In the past fiscal year, the sheriff also housed 338 illegal immigrants at ICE’s request. And Fairfax is looking to expand its partnership with ICE under the federal 287g program.
Fairfax County also requires proof of legal residence for the following programs, housing assistance, food stamps, home energy assistance, medical insurance and refugee assistance.
Connolly pointed out that the county couldn’t deny schooling to the children of illegal immigrants because public education has been exempted by the Supreme Court and cannot legally be denied to any child.
The truth is the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors under Connolly’s leadership has struck the right balance of attempting to enforce laws that protect the quality of life and deny some services to those who are not here legally. It has focused on using legal remedies to create an environment that will discourage illegal immigrants without grandstanding, demonizing people or exploiting fear. And Fairfax has not suffered under this approach. As Connolly points out at the end of his op-ed piece:
I’ll let that be the last word because I couldn’t put it any better than Gerry just did.
This is a complex issue. Forty percent of Fairfax's population belongs to a minority group, and the numbers are equally strong in other parts of our region. As our minority population has tripled in the past quarter-century, we have become the economic engine of the commonwealth, with the nation's highest median income.
Our school system has become the envy of the nation, and our crime rate is the lowest among the nation's large jurisdictions. There should be no arguing that Fairfax County and this region have thrived because of that growing diversity.
We all can recognize the challenge posed by illegal immigration. However, we must not allow politicians to engage in the demagogic politics of fear and intimidation that have so divided us in Virginia's past.