"We have the Palauans, the Somalians now, so the demographics have changed. But there's more negative stigma attached to everything. So more single men instead of the families again "¦ in a way we're now backtracking," says Jillian White-Hernández, 27, a high school teacher married to an undocumented immigrant.
Yet even the raid itself fostered a number of interethnic relationships that remain strong today. One of them can be seen in the living room of Guatemalan immigrant Rosa Zamora, where Priscilla Sliwa, a Quaker farm owner who lives near Decorah, Iowa, gets enthusiastic hugs of greeting from Zamora's two daughters when she stops by for a visit.
AN ENDURING GULF
The relationship between Zamora and Sliwa offers a hopeful vision of how the U.S. may respond as diversity spreads into new places. The experience of Prince William County, Va., shows the opportunity for strain.
The county has been a destination for immigrants since the 1980s, when many fleeing civil wars in Central America settled in the Washington area. Tensions always existed, according to some residents, but rekindled when the economic boom of the 1990s brought another wave of immigrants attracted by the availability of jobs and the low cost of living.
Tension rose again after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks and heightened further when housing prices collapsed in 2007 and the overall economy soon followed. Rising unemployment rates and foreclosures swept aside whatever grudging tolerance residents had developed for the new arrivals.
The county was thrust into the center of the national immigration debate in 2007, when its Republican-majority County Board of Supervisors approved an ordinance that allowed police to ask about the immigration status of anyone they suspected to be undocumented.
The bitter debate over the measure produced tensions, and Hispanics left en masse for neighboring counties. A University of Virginia study estimated that between 2,000 and 6,000 people packed up. Houses and apartments were abandoned, the local economy slowed, and some small-business owners were forced to shut down entirely. (Even so, the Hispanic population in Prince William grew from 8 percent in 2000 to 20 percent in 2010.)
Unusual at the time, the ordinance now has echoes elsewhere. Over the past several years, Republican-controlled legislatures in several states have approved largely overlapping bills to severely toughen enforcement of laws targeting illegal immigrants. In Arizona, which set the template with its SB 1070 legislation, tension over the border has inflamed the issue. But many of the states that followed suit are those that have experienced the most rapid (and unprecedented) growth in their Hispanic populations, like Alabama and South Carolina.
As in many of these states, the push against illegal immigration in Prince William County drew support from an array of concerns that extended well beyond any fear of economic competition from the new arrivals. The effort also drew on anxieties about the changing face of the student body in the public schools, the offering of English as a Second Language courses, and the availability of social services for immigrants — services that undocumented immigrants cannot access, but legal residents and citizens can. Fear of crime also fueled the move, although a University of Virginia study found that fewer than 2 percent of those arrested in the county in 2008 (after the law was implemented) were undocumented immigrants. Finally, there was the political dimension: The president-at-large of the Prince William County Board of Supervisors, Republican Corey Stewart, ran for reelection on a promise to combat undocumented immigration.