Gooze Views

Peter Galuszka



Virginia is for Gulags 


A plan for a special prison for illegal aliens is jolting. Is it really needed, or is its purpose to draw attention from GOP failures?


One of the more pathetic, if amusing, moments during the August 1991 coup against liberal Soviet reformer Mikhail S. Gorbachev took the form of an unusual factory order. Reactionary coup plotters wanted 250,000 pairs of handcuffs to subdue opponents once they made their bold move. Of course, the attempt to turn back the clock to Stalinism, otherwise known as “The Vodka Putsch,” failed miserably due to the drunken ineptness of the plotters and popular support for Gorbachev. But therein lies a lesson.


Legislators in this birthplace of Jeffersonian Democracy are considering building a special 1,000-person detention center for immigrants who snuck in or whose paperwork is not in order. This is one of 11 proposals before the State Crime Commission that is tasked with taking care of criminality. A public hearing is set for Oct. 16. The next session of the General Assembly could push the idea further.


Like the brains behind “The Vodka Putsch,” some of our Virginia lawmakers, most of them Republicans, want to be ready for the crackdown. Up to now, they have worked hard stirring up the sense that an invasion of illegal aliens is upon us. Dark-skinned people who speak funny- sounding languages can be seen more often at convenience stores and gas stations. Hardworking, God-fearing and, of course, mostly White Virginians are stuck paying for Jose or Arun or Mamood as he and his seriously extended family wantonly steal benefits, college slots and jobs. Such is the world as many lawmakers – some Democratic but mostly Republican – want us to see it.


Xenophobia does have legs, as cynical politicians know. When the General Assembly meets Jan. 11, it will consider more than 40 bills and resolutions that, among other things, would make it harder for immigrants to get drivers licenses, prevent companies from hiring illegal foreign labor and keep undocumented wogs from benefiting from in-state college tuition. Many cities and counties, including my own home of Chesterfield, have proposed resolutions to make “English” the “official” language.


And now, to be sure, the State Crime Commission wants a special Gulag to handle the alien wave. According to SCC member state Sen. Kenneth W. Stolle, R-Virginia Beach, such a facility may be needed because in one study, an estimated six to 10 percent of the inmates held in Virginia jails may have been illegal immigrants. The U.S. Bureau of Immigration and Customs Enforcement doesn’t have the bed space to handle all of the illegal aliens thought to be deserving of confinement, Stolle said.. 


Let’s go over that again. The facility may be needed because up to 10 percent of jail immigrants may be illegal immigrants. But the figures, when held up to the light, get fuzzy. According to the Associated  Press, the real number is lower – maybe three to five percent of the population of the so-called “Top 10” jails on the SCC list are illegal immigrants. The numbers blur even more when you consider that the feds already ask local jailors to hold illegal immigrants for deportation. So, you may be factoring in an element that’s already been cracked down upon and doesn’t need another roundup.


So, how many illegal immigrants are in Virginia, anyway? According to the Washington Post, the number could be as high as 180,000, triple what it was in 1996, against a state population of 7.6 million. But this, once again, is an estimate. And, given a state unemployment rate of about 3.1 percent, it is hard to fathom just how many jobs the illegals are actually taking away.


But the lack of good data doesn’t stop our legislators. House Speaker William J. Howell, a Republican representing Stafford County, pronounced that illegals are stealing cheap, in-state tuition slots at highly regarded public universities, including the University of Virginia and the College of William and Mary. The argument seems to say that some young Virginians might be disenfranchised even though they are more worthy because they are White or can trace ancestry back to the colonialist First Families. Problem is, just after Howell made his comments, the aforementioned universities denied that they have any illegals at all because their selection processes are simply too rigorous. Howell didn’t have much of a response and couldn’t name cases.


The clearest reason for the hysteria over the alien invasion is that the state’s GOP has shot itself in the foot again and again. Among the party's recent screw-ups are transportation policies and no-tax dogmas that have led to such subterfuges as civil penalties exclusively for Virginia drivers and moneyless regional tax authorities. One of their guiding lights with much national promise, George Allen, who won big political points in the 1990s by demanding $400 million in new prisons, self-destructed last year after insulting a dark-skinned young man on the campaign trail. He also avoided admitting that he had a Jewish mother, as if that was somehow unappealing and “un-Virginian.” Now, we have the Virginia Gulag proposal.


What’s next -- orders for 180,000 sets of handcuffs?


-- October 1, 2007

















Peter Galuszka is a veteran journalist living in Chesterfield County.


(Photo credit: Maria Galuszka.)