S.A. Miller, Wash. Times, Apr. 16
Illegal immigration has become a key issue in town elections in Herndon, where some candidates have pledged to stop allowing illegal aliens to receive taxpayer-funded aid and reside in the town’s overcrowded group homes.
“I’m not opposed to having an immigrant population, but I am concerned that our services and our resources are being taken advantage of by people who are not contributing to the community through taxes or a regular job,” said Herndon Town Council member Connie H. Hutchinson, a candidate for mayor in the May 4 nonpartisan general election.
“We have a history of welcoming people and encouraging diversity,” she said, “but I think it has probably gone beyond the realm of what we can accommodate.”
The immigration issue has been brewing for at least five years in Herndon, a town of 22,000 residents with a burgeoning Hispanic population that exceeded 5,600 — more than 25 percent — in the 2000 census. It came to a head last summer over a proposal to build a shelter for day laborers — a town-sanctioned alternative to the parking lot of the 7-Eleven store in the middle of town, where as many as 100 laborers currently gather every morning to await work.
Despite support by the majority of the council, the proposal died amid public outcry. Then the council authorized day-laborer shelters in the zoning code and made plans for a $1.3 million center for social service programs, most of which apparently do not check recipients’ immigration status — moves that galvanized candidates opposed to illegal immigrants.
“We pay the highest taxes in the state of Virginia, and I don’t think we should be funding social programs for illegal aliens,” said Ann V. Null, one of the 12 candidates for six seats on the town council.
Mrs. Null, a 46-year-old homemaker who home-schools her two sons, gained prominence as a community activist fighting the shelter initiative. Now she wants illegal immigrants weeded out of the day-laborer pool, cut off from taxpayer-funded aid and rounded up by the Herndon Police Department.
A state law that takes effect July 1 permits police in Herndon and every jurisdiction in Virginia to detain suspected illegal aliens and gang members for up to 72 hours. Mrs. Null and other anti-illegal alien candidates relish the prospect.
“Entry into our country without permission is a crime, and we should be prosecuting all crimes,” Mrs. Null said.
Town council member Dennis D. Husch, who along with Miss Hutchinson cast the only votes against zoning for day-laborer shelters, also said he looked forward to a police crackdown on illegal aliens.
Mr. Husch, who is running for re-election, said he supports a shelter or hiring center for the day laborers, except he wants the facility operated by the Virginia Employment Commission, which would check the immigration status of prospective workers.
David A. Kirby, a candidate for town council who opposes providing illegal aliens with taxpayer-funded programs or a day-laborer hiring center, said home overcrowding is his pet issue.
“It is causing the home values to depreciate, it is upsetting the people of Herndon and it is mostly caused by illegal aliens,” said Mr. Kirby, 56, who works as an information technology manager for Raytheon Corporation.
He said the issue was the same whether addressing day laborers, social services or home overcrowding. “If I look the other way when we suspect there are illegal aliens among these people, then I would not be upholding my oath of office,” Mr. Kirby said.
However, Herndon Mayor Richard C. Thoesen said the anti-illegal alien candidates were exploiting the fear and prejudices of a community in the throes of a demographic transformation. “It’s mean-spirited and it is shortsighted,” he said.
“Are we going to ignore or turn our back on a large segment of the population on the pretense that some of these people are illegal?” asked Mr. Thoesen, a longtime political figure in Herndon who is not running for a second term as mayor. “It is in the long-term best interest of the community to help these people help themselves.”
He said the town’s aggressive pursuit of illegal immigrants would risk alienating the Hispanic community. “They are trying to raise families and help their children do better, just like I did,” said Mr. Thoesen. “Are you telling me that 26 percent of our population is illegal? That’s ridiculous.”