A recent event in Richmond looked like a Trump rally with people wildly cheering on the political candidate as he hammered away on immigration. “This issue of illegal immigration is not a racial issue, it’s about public safety,” said Corey Stewart, a Virginia gubernatorial hopeful. “If someone is in our country illegally, and they commit a crime, and they are a public risk to you and your family. Should we allow that person to stay in our country?”
Stewart did not address anything else but crime and immigration in his speech at the Virginia Capitol in early March. Like Donald Trump, Stewart uses nativist, anti-immigrant rhetoric that links illegal immigration with crime. Like Trump, Stewart taps into people’s fears by creating false connections between immigration and crime, a tactic used to win re-election in Prince William County since 2006 and to pass some of the country’s first laws targeting undocumented immigrants.
Stewart: “I was Trump before Trump was Trump.”
Corey Stewart is a Trump wannabe, and we don’t want him to replicate what he did in Prince William on a statewide level. If Stewart wins, he’ll criminalize immigrants and incite a hostile anti-immigrant environment, forcing people to leave Virginia out of fear for their safety.
His politics aren’t just bad for our neighbors and friends, they’re bad for business as well.
The fallout from Prince William’s anti-immigrant legislation was nasty: people left the county to live in neighboring areas and businesses were shuttered as a result. The 2009 documentary “9500 Liberty” detailed the adverse effects of Stewart’s policies in Prince William. Here’s a clip from the 2009 film:
Flasback: 2007 in Prince william County
As Chairman of Prince William County’s Board of Supervisors, Stewart convinced other supervisors to pass an ordinance in 2007 that required county police officers to stop and check the immigration status of people it suspected of being undocumented. The county ordinance also directed the denial of business licenses and county health services to undocumented immigrants. Immigrant rights advocates decried the law as unconstitutional and as an excuse for racial profiling.
The county police chief said the ordinance was too expensive to implement, so it was adjusted in 2008 to require officers to inquire about the immigration status of detainees only after their arrested. The county then began to participate in the National 287(g) program where local police officers cooperate with the federal government to enforce federal immigration law.
The ordinance was approved in response to county residents’ anxiety over new and different neighbors that resulted from an inundation of immigrants into Prince William. According to a Brookings Institute study, Prince William’s Latino population tripled in size between 2000 and 2006, confirming the county’s status as a national leader in Latino growth. In 2007, Prince William had a population of 400,000 residents, 20% of whom were immigrants. Stewart championed the efforts of a group called “Help Save Manassas,” founded by county residents in 2007, “to preserve our communities and protect them from the effects related to the presence of illegal aliens in our community.”
The aftermath of Stewart’s policies
Proponents of the law hoped that the ordinance would create a hostile environment for immigrants and force them to leave the county. “By deterring illegal immigrants who—from coming to the county in the first place, encouraging the illegal immigrants who are already here to leave, and that’s ultimately what’s going to be saving the county money,” Stewart was quoted as saying at the time. But an article published in the Washington Post in 2010 pointed to a study from the University of Virginia showing that only between 2,000 to 6,000 immigrants left the county due to the legislation.
Nonetheless, the negative economic impact was widespread. Dr. Stephen Fuller, an economist at George Mason University, said in the “9500 Liberty” documentary that the economic slowdown that occurred in 2008 was more damaging to Prince William because of the county’s anti-immigrant laws. “[The Prince William County government] made it worse by targeting a lower-income of the population and making it feel less welcome,” said Dr. Fuller in the documentary. “[The Prince William government] took away that spending power, that tax-generating power…There’s going to be fewer workers, less spending, less resources and less investment.”
Stewart likes to tell people the laws he helped pass in Prince William County were a success. “So far in Prince William County, we have handed over 7,500 criminal illegal aliens to the federal government and our crime rate dropped by 48.7 % in three years,” Stewart said at the Richmond rally. “Members of the press said that was just a coincidence, but we know that’s not true.”
National studies and statistics prove wrong Stewart’s claim that removing people from the county led to a decrease in crime. Numbers from the Prince William County Police Department show that in 2009, “illegal immigrants” comprised only 2.2% of the total number of people arrested for criminal activity in the county. That number dropped to 1.5 % in 2015.
A report released by the Sentencing Project show that immigrants commit crimes at lower rates than native-born citizens and that higher levels of immigration in recent decades may have led to a decrease in crime. Findings from the CATO Institute also show “that both illegal immigrants and legal immigrants have incarceration rates far below those of native-born Americans.” The CATO study also noted that there are about 2 million native-born citizens, 123,000 undocumented immigrants, and 64,000 documented foreign nationals currently incarcerated in the United States.
Corey Stewart: Bad for Business, Worse for Your Neighbor, Awful for Virginia
Despite the evidence pointing to the contrary, Stewart continues falsely connecting undocumented immigration with crime. At his Richmond rally, Stewart stood with people holding the “Stolen Lives Quilt,” showing individuals who were “killed by illegal aliens.” “I’m here because of all of these innocent girls, boys, and women whose lives were taken by criminal illegal aliens,” Stewart said in Richmond. “I’m not the one who came up with 287(g) folks…That was the citizens of Prince William County who wanted to protect themselves from crimes by illegal aliens.”
Stewart called out Richmond’s new mayor, Levar Stoney, for putting in place a policy that mandates Richmond as an “inclusive city” directing its police officers to not enforce federal immigration laws. “Levar Stoney is more concerned with making sure that he doesn’t offend anyone than with protecting the lives and the rights of the citizens of Richmond,” he said. “That is not a public servant, people, that is a coward.” One of Stewart’s first acts as governor would be to cut off state funding for local police in areas that refuse to cooperate with federal immigration authorities. “We will end sanctuary cities in Virginia,” he said.
The other Republican candidates for governor, former lobbyist Ed Gillespie, and state Senator Frank Wagner have not made immigration a campaign issue. Maybe they understand criminalizing immigrants leads to distrust by weakening police and community relations and that putting more responsibilities on local law enforcement costs taxpayers money. According to the Brookings Institute study, Prince William County had to increase property taxes and borrow from its rainy day fund to carry out its 287(g) program and anti-immigrant laws.
Although Stewart is currently behind in the Republican race for governor, progressives in Virginia need to be vigilant with Stewart’s antics. Stewart as governor of Virginia would rollback so many achievements the state has made in helping immigrants, such as Attorney General Mark Herring’s policy of granting in-state tuition to Dreamers. If Corey Stewart ran on the Republican ticket for governor, his campaign would create a climate of fear and divisiveness similar to that of Trump’s presidential bid. Let’s not go there. Let’s keep Virginia moving forward and welcoming of immigrants.