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Changes in US Town Reflect Easing of Anger Over Illegal Immigration

  • Brian Padden

The growing power of minority voters in the United States, particularly the Hispanic/Latino vote, has changed the political landscape of the United States. On the national level there is now bipartisan support in Congress for immigration reform. And in a small town in northern Virginia, where a few years ago illegal immigration was a divisive political issue, public anger is fading.

Undocumented day laborers from Central America still gather at the 7/11 convenience store in Herndon, Virginia, hoping for work. But since 2006, their numbers have decreased.

Back then, public anger at illegal immigrants came to a head when the town opened a publicly funded center to get the workers off the street. A local anti-immigrant group called The Minutemen protested the center, photographing and reporting suspected illegal immigrants to federal authorities. In 2007, the city council closed the center.

But over time, the number of minority voters, especially Latinos, has grown. Cesar del Aguila is chairman of the Fairfax County Democratic Party, which covers Herndon. He says anti-immigrant zeal has dissipated.

“What you have now versus five years ago, you have people on the town council that understand that diversity is a good thing. It is not something to be feared,” Del Aguila said.

He says Herndon is now considered, in national elections, a Democratic stronghold. But Herndon’s Virginia state delegate, Republican Tom Rust, is also courting the Latino vote, and recently sponsored a bill to allow undocumented immigrants who came when they were children to attend state universities and colleges.

“We do have a large immigrant population in Virginia, a large immigrant population in our population centers. They’re good citizens. They’re good people. They work hard. These kids, through no fault of their own, were brought into the country,” Rust said.

The bill failed because of a lack of Republican support and concerns that a move to legalize undocumented workers would encourage more illegal immigration.

Nearby, in Centerville, a day laborer center that receives no public funding opened in 2011. Most of the men here came to the U.S. alone. Cesar Kolindres from El Salvador says if immigration reform passes, they intend to bring their wives and children.

“One day then, if they make it a reality to have this permit or citizenship or something equal or as good as that, and then we can bring our families and live here in this country,” Kolindres said.

Rust and Herndon’s mayor declined to talk to VOA about the day laborers. Del Aguila says illegal immigration is a national, not a local problem.

“If you look at the charter of the town council, it is about land use, zoning and budget items. It has nothing to do with expelling people or rounding people up,” Del Aguila said.

While there is growing support for the bipartisan reform proposal in Congress, in Herndon there is concern that a key component of that legislation - giving legal status to millions of undocumented workers - could again spark division.
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