Category Archives: Immigration

Racism and COVID-19 in Virginia

By Peter Galuszka

“The Chinese Virus?” “Kung Flu?” Wuflu?”

These are some pejorative and racist names being bandied about for what is technically known as the Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus 2. The disease associated with the virus is COVID-19.

These distinctions are part of a column written by the Virginia Asian Advisory Board in today’s Virginia Mercury. They write: “In an already anti-immigrant environment, Asians, particularly Chinese, are reportedly facing increasing acts of racism.”

They report that businesses with Asian-sounding names are being shunned, Uber and Lyft drivers are not giving rides of people based on their names and the social media is filled with stories critical of Asians, which is nuts because Asia is even more diverse than Europe.

Donald Trump, our Incompetent in Chief, is leading the charge for demeaning Asians by insisting on calling the virus the “Chinese Flu.”

During the 2016 campaign, he constantly put down Mexicans and other Latinos. That summer I was taken aback when I was at my neighborhood swimming pool. A group of what looked like eighth-grade boys was splashing around shouting “Mexico sucks!” I stopped them and asked them why they were saying that. They said, “That’s what Donald Trump says.” Continue reading

Virginia on the Road to Anarchy

Steve Descano

by James A. Bacon

Enforcement of the laws of Virginia may become optional in Fairfax and Arlington Counties when newly elected Commonwealth’s Attorneys — Steve Descano in Fairfax and Parisa Dehghani-Tafti in Arlington — take office. Both have promised to stop prosecuting marijuana possession, reports the Washington Post.

Descano and Dehghani-Tafti said pot possession prosecutions do little to protect public safety, disproportionately fall on people of color, saddle defendants with damaging convictions and can be better spent on more serious crimes. …

Descano said the policy brings Fairfax County’s values into the courthouse. “I traveled around Fairfax County for over a year listening to people,” Descano said. “The thing that came up time and time again was simple possession of marijuana — how it was a waste of resources and led to unjust outcomes.”

The arguments against prosecuting pot possession are not unreasonable. Indeed, Governor Ralph Northam has proposed decriminalizing the offense. What’s disturbing is that the two prosecutors aren’t willing to wait for the General Assembly to enact a law this session, which would go into effect in July. They feel compelled to take legislative matters into their own hands and nullify the state law now in effect.

First sanctuary cities. Then second amendment sanctuaries. Now pot possession. The conviction is spreading across Virginia like a mutant flu virus that local officials are free to ignore laws they don’t like.  Continue reading

Mo’ Money for Schools Across the Board?


The Virginia Board of Education (VBOE) has published its annual report on Virginia public schools. The report catalogs numerous deficiencies in the state school system, with an emphasis on unequal educational outcomes. And it recommends mo’ money across the board — mo’ money for teacher pay, mo’ money for mo’ teachers and staff, mo’ money for poor schools. You know the drill.

The report contains an informative graphic (replicated above) that shows the changing demographics of Virginia’s school population. The percentage of white students has declined over the past decade. Whites no longer comprise a majority in Virginia’s school population. The percentage of black students has declined as well. But the percentage of Asian and Hispanic students has soared.

The number of English learners has increased from 87,000 students a decade ago to 107,000 students in 2018-19. As it happens, according to the VBOE’s searchable Standards of Learning database, only 34.7% of English as Second Language (ESL) students passed their reading SOLs last year, compared to 80.9% for other students. The disparity for writing was even more dismal.

The Commonwealth can increase educational spending across the board — more money for everybody and everything — or it can focus added spending on where the investment returns are the greatest. The greatest inequality in Virginia schools is between those who speak English as a native language and those who don’t. If we want to reduce educational disparities, we’ll get the most bang for the buck by focusing resources on teaching immigrant kids how to read and write English. Once these students understand what’s being said in class, progress in other subjects will follow. Just a thought…

— JAB

Does the Left Have an Understandable Position on Immigration and How Much Does It Matter?

by Don Rippert

Debate: The debate on immigration in America continues to rage. People who hold right-of-center political beliefs seem to think that the U.S. immigration laws should be vigorously enforced. There may be some “wiggle room” on the right. For example, some conservatives believe there should be exceptions to deportation for those illegally in the United States so long as they have been here a fairly long time, paid taxes, stayed out of legal trouble, etc. Without commenting on the reasonableness of the conservative position, it is understandable.

The position held by Americans with left-of-center political beliefs is hard to fathom. While few liberals will openly say they are in favor of “open borders” the sum total of their beliefs seems to indicate that “open borders” is exactly what they seek.

This issue is important for Virginia because some areas of Virginia have very low numbers of foreign born residents, while other areas have very high numbers of foreign-born residents. For example, the 2010 Census found that 12.9% of people living in America were foreign born. Virginia had 11.4% of its residents recorded as being foreign born. However, Arlington County (Virginia’s 6th most populous county) had a foreign born percentage of 28% in 2000. Social services are affected by immigration. The cost of teaching English as a second language in public schools is directly impacted by the percentage of residents born in foreign (non English speaking) countries.

Author’s apology in advance – this is a long post. By far the longest I have ever published. However, this is a complex topic with both liberals and conservatives more than willing to misrepresent the data. I saw no way to properly handle the topic with brevity.

Continue reading

Can You Say, “Virtue Signaling”?

Sharon Bulova

Top Democratic elected officials in Northern Virginia oppose the Trump administration’s practice on the Mexican border of separating children from their families and placing them in crowded and squalid holding facilities, reports the Washington Post. “Fairfax County wants no part of this heartless practice,” said Fairfax County Board Chair Sharon Bulova in a letter sent Monday to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

Therefore, Bulova and other like-minded Dems oppose plans to open a shelter for unaccompanied minors in the region.

Huh?

The “Virginia Residential Child Care Facility” would be equipped with classrooms, sleeping areas and two acres of outdoor recreation space. According to the Washington Post, the facility is meant to house youths close to where they may have relatives already living and to ease crowded conditions in U.S. Border Patrol processing facilities. Continue reading

Housing Humans For Profit Draws Protests

More than 70 people strong, a small caravan made its way through the quiet streets of Farmville July 27 to protest a private jail for undocumented immigrants being prepared for deportation.

“We were offering prayers for the detainees. We have lost our moral compass,” said Elena Ceberio, a protestor and member of the Pullen Memorial Baptist Church of Raleigh, N.C. Its pastor, Rev Dr Nancy Petty, led the protest.

The target was the Farmville Detention Center, a facility owned by Immigration Centers of America, a Richmond-based firm formed a decade ago to cash in on a rising wave of anti-foreigner fervor.

It is part of a trend towards private prisons that started around the 1980s. By the end of the 2000s, a number of firms saw a market in undocumented immigrants and smelled opportunity.

In the Farmville case, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement contracted with the City of Farmville to house immigrants who are to be deported. In turn, the city has a deal with ICA, which built a 772 –bed facility on the industrial outskirts of town. The city has been getting a dollar a day per prisoner, plus taxes and other benefits that reach about $250,000 a year. Continue reading

Virginia’s Left Consumes Another of Its Own

Dario Marquez: a Virginia Democrat, a progressive, a generous donor to left-of-center causes… but guilty of indirect association with President Trump’s immigration policies.

Dario Marques Jr., former government contractor and major contributor to Virginia Democratic Party poohbahs, has come under fire from Virginia progressives for his role in running an Arizona shelter for unaccompanied children who crossed the border illegally. Although Marques’ contract originated in 2014 during the Obama administration, work continued into the Trump administration — and any association with Trump, no matter how tangential, is more toxic than kepone.

Naturally, any attack from the Left is grist for the Mainstream Media, and this particular controversy has occasioned a lengthy article written by WCVE radio and disseminated by the Associated Press. This blue-on-blue political hit illustrates the asymmetries at work within the Democratic Party today. With its access to the Mainstream Media megaphone, left-wing activists keep moderate Democrats on the defensive and push the party to the Left.

Reports WCVE:

A handful of local left-wing activists are calling for Democrats to distance themselves from Marquez, whose proximity to detention policies they say calls into question the politicians’ commitment to reform. La ColectiVa and two other groups, Justice for Muslims Collective and Showing Up for Racial Justice Northern Virginia, launched a petition on July 17 calling for Virginia Democrats to stop accepting Marquezs’ donations, and launch an investigation into federal contractors profiting from ICE contracts, among other demands.

Continue reading

Caravans, Asylum and MS-13

It’s been frustrating the past couple of days. Attending a family funeral in Wilksboro, N.C., I’ve been unable to respond to the tremendous ruckus created by Steve Haner’s past three columns. Great job, Steve. Keep up the rabble rousing! I’m back now, though, and I’ve been catching up on my reading. And the story the caught my eye was an article in Saturday’s Wall Street Journal describing the increasing grip of street gangs like MS-13 and Barrio 18 on the countries of El Salvador and Honduras.

Nabra Hassanen

Reading about the Central American caravans working their way through Mexico toward the United States, I’m struck by two conflicting impulses. The first is humanitarian. It’s impossible to hear the migrants’ stories without feeling compassion for their plight. They live in countries where the bad guys fought the law and… the law lost. The WSJ tells how street gangs rob, extort and murder with impunity. The murder rate in El Salvador is twelve times that of the U.S. Who would not want to flee such places in a desperate search for a better life? Who could blame these people for seeking asylum?

The second impulse is to say, No way, Jose. If the migrants manage to make it into the country, where do you think they’re heading? Well, it turns out that there are three main concentrations of Salvadorans in the United States — California, Long Island, N.Y., Maryland/Virginia, mainly in the Washington metropolitan area. When immigrants come to a new country, they don’t settle at random. They head to locales where people from the same villages and districts have already settled. Many would land in Virginia.

Darwin Martinez Torres

And what kind of people would those immigrants be? The media feeds us photographs of mothers with young children, portraying the caravans as brigades of baby strollers. President Trump speaks of young men capable of violence, conjuring images of the hoodlums who stormed the barricades at the Guatemalan-Mexican border. Trump and the media both have their own political agendas. It’s hard to know whom to trust. I suspect that both capture a piece of the truth.

I err toward the side of caution. Set up facilities and procedures for processing claims of people seeking asylum. But make it clear that people enter the United States on America’s terms, not those of the asylum seekers. The U.S. has an obligation to weed out gang members who might prey upon their fellow Salvadorans — or Americans such as Nabra Hassanen, a 17-year-old Muslim girl who allegedly was beaten and raped in Sterling by a bat-wielding member of MS-13, Darwin Martinez Torres. Surely there is a way to provide sanctuary to asylum seekers while also keeping out murderers, extortionists and rapists.

Encroaching Mob Rule

Corey Stewart needs a bigger loudspeaker. Photo credit: Washington Post

I’ve never had much use for Corey Stewart’s populist, in-your-face brand of politics. But some of the people opposing him aren’t any better.

Stewart, who is running for U.S. Senate against Tim Kaine, held a rally yesterday outside the Immigration and Customs Enforcement offices in Fairfax County to express his outrage, as the Washington Point news article puts it, “over an unlikely effort to abolish the federal agency.”

Less than 50 feet from Stewart and his nearly 40 supporters, counterprotesters banged pots and pans while playing Latin American music over a loudspeaker in hopes of drowning them out.

Groups like La ColectiVA social justice collaborative and the Metro DC Democratic Socialists of America, which took part in the counter-protest, feel increasing license to interfere with the right of their political opponents to peacefully assemble, speak… or even just dine quietly in a restaurant. Belligerence and rudeness can be found across the political spectrum, but the Left is the side trying to chase the Right from the public sphere, not the other way around.

Stewart handled the situation with good grace. “I want to thank the people in the back for providing tonight’s entertainment,” he said. “Those goofballs in the back don’t want to talk about” the crimes committed by illegal immigrants, he added.

Stewart could have won some sympathy from the incident. But then he falsely (according to the Washington Post) accused Kaine of wanting to abolish the Immigration and Customs Enforcement office. Note to Stewart: You don’t win votes by hurling falsehoods against your opponent.

A lot of people are getting fed up with the Left’s flirtation with mob rule. Instead of making charges that can be easily swatted down, perhaps Stewart should ask Kaine if he condones the tactics of La ColectiVA and the Democratic Socialists of America. The Senator has no easy answer. Either he criticizes his supporters on the far Left, he goes squishy on mob rule, or he refuses to respond, which makes it looks like he has something to hide. For Stewart, that’s a no-lose proposition.

Virginia’s Child-Immigrant Non-Scandal

The Shenandoah Valley Juvenile Center

In the fall of 2017, three migrant children detained by the federal Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR) at the Shenandoah Valley Juvenile Center filed a class action lawsuit alleging abuse by guards. This June, amidst national media coverage of the separation of children from parents on the U.S. border, news media discovered the lawsuit and reported on the allegations.

As I summarized the charges in a blog post: “Allegedly, teenagers were restrained, handcuffed, and made to sit with bags over their heads. Some were stripped of their clothes. Some were locked in solitary confinement, some beaten, left with bruises and broken bones and kept shivering in concrete cells.” I added: “The claims, if true, are shocking and must be addressed immediately.”

Well, the Northam administration promptly looked into the issue and has published its report. The findings? As I should have surmised from the hysterical, almost apocalyptic nature of the immigrant-children coverage by the national media, the state Department of Juvenile Justice “found that there was no evidence of abuse or neglect.”

DJJ staff interviewed all of the federal residents of SVJC. The team was unable to substantiate the conditions described in the lawsuit concerning the operations of SVJC or the mistreatment of residents. After obtaining permission from ORR, the team returned on June 25 and reviewed case files, medical files, room confinement forms, and other documentation to assess compliance with regulations relating to the quality of care.

The immigrant children held at SVJC aren’t toddlers separated from their parents. They are unaccompanied minors under the age of 18 with no parent or legal guardian in the U.S. Many have suffered trauma; some belong to gangs such as the infamous MS-13. Many display behavioral issues presenting disciplinary challenges.

One technique used by SVJC is “room confinement” to “ensure the safety and security of residents, staff, and the facility.” The DJJ found no incidents where residents were confined longer than 24 hours. With the exception of one 23-hour incident, confinements typically lasted four hours.

SVJC staff also used, though rarely, a “restraint chair” for out-of-control residents “who cannot be safely restrained by less intrusive methods. While in the chair, a mesh spit guard can be placed on the resident’s head to prevent spitting or biting.”

In sum, the center faced difficult conditions. “Young people who have been frequently exposed to high levels of trauma, who are separated from their families, and who confront numerous language and cultural barriers” comprise a “uniquely challenging group,” the DJJ report says. The center should provide staff with professional development “in the areas of positive youth development, cognitive behavioral interventions and trauma informed care” and should increase “understanding and sensitivity toward the unique cultural backgrounds of the youth in the federal program.” DJJ also recommended more training in the use of physical and mechanical restraints, and in the effective use of de-escalation techniques.

Bacon’s bottom line: In other words, while the Shenandoah Valley Juvenile Center could benefit from some tweaks, investigators found no real problem there. What this story highlights — although you’ll never see a mainstream media outlet framing the issue this way — is an endemic feature of illegal immigration. Many children are unaccompanied by parents or relatives. Many suffered trauma — not at the hands of Americans but of their fellow countrymen (or perhaps Mexicans, which many had to pass through to get to the U.S.). And many pose special behavioral problems requiring their confinement and costing U.S. taxpayers.

The national media is largely uninterested in such issues, of course, so I anticipate zero follow-up. If U.S. immigration policy cannot be blamed, there’s nothing worth writing about.

Here’s what I would like to know. Who were the children who made the allegations and had a suit filed in their name? More importantly, who were the attorneys filing the suit on their behalf? How did those attorneys gain access to the children? Are they just random lawyers off the streets of Staunton, or are they part of a nonprofit organization? If they were part of a nonprofit, what is that organization’s aims and who is funding it? Could there have been political motivations behind the lawsuits? None of that information, as I recall, was reported by the media. What a surprise.

Update: The state report has come under heavy criticism by the people who filed the original lawsuit, including  the Washington, D.C., law firm Wiley Rein and the Washington Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights and Urban Affairs, as well as the Henrico-based disAbility Law Center of Virginia. The Virginia Mercury has the story here. Unlike state investigators, the disAbility Law Center says it had unaccompanied access to the residents.

Does Anyone Care about U.S. Children?

Youth for Tomorrow facility, Prince William County

Over the weekend, U.S. Senator Tim Kaine visited the Youth for Tomorrow facility in Prince William County that has been housing undocumented-immigrant children for the past six years. The visit highlighted his call the previous day for the Trump administration “to assure us that every single one of the children they separated from their parents is quickly and safely returned to their families.”

Last week Governor Ralph Northam ordered Virginia’s National Guard contingent serving on the U.S. Southwest border to come home. He ordered the Guard to withdraw four soldiers and one helicopter from Arizona, he said, “until the federal government ends its enforcement of a zero-tolerance policy that separates children from their parents.”

Now that they’ve made clear their antipathy to the policies of the Trump administration, perhaps Kaine and Northam can turn their attention to a near-identical problem that has festered here in Virginia for decades: the separation of children from their parents in the administration of criminal justice in the U.S.

While the separation of children and parents at the border has dominated national news coverage for a couple of weeks now, the issue of child-parent separation inside the U.S. had barely warranted any attention at all. Ever. A rare exception was a USA Today article published in 2014, “Who’s Watching the Kids?

The Justice Department and police officials across the nation are directing their agencies to deal with thousands of children who are left behind following the arrests of parents, from surprise raids at family homes to roadside traffic stops.

Few law enforcement agencies have policies that specifically address the continuing care of children after such arrests, despite an estimated 1.7 million children who have at least one parent in prison, according to the Bureau of Justice Statistics. The number of children jumps to about 2.7 million when parents detained in local jails are included. …

Justice and the International Association of Chiefs of Police, the nation’s largest organization of police officials, are beginning to roll out guidelines to agencies across the country. It is an unusual attempt to shield children — often forgotten in the chaotic moments before and after arrests — from unnecessary “trauma” related to their parents’ detention.

I’m trying to understand the logic of those who oppose the separation of children and parents. Does the objection extend to all children separated from parents who enter the criminal justice system? Or does the insistence upon non-separation apply only to those who are trying to enter the United States?

When Kaine said, “every single one of the children they separated from their parents [should be] quickly and safely returned to their families,” does his logic apply to U.S. families? What would such a policy look like? Should children be admitted into jails and prisons to reside with their mothers? Or should mothers be released from jails and prisons to be with their children? Did Kaine act to prevent such policies when he was mayor of Richmond? If child-parent separation is such a moral travesty, why didn’t he?

When Northam demands that the federal government “end its enforcement of a zero-tolerance policy that separates children from their parents,” how would he describe state policy toward the separation of children from Virginia parents who are arrested and put into jail? Do we have a “zero tolerance” policy in Virginia, or are there instances in which parents are released from incarceration on the grounds of humanity? Does Northam even know what the policies and practices prevail in Virginia?

If Kaine believes that illegal-immigrant children should not be separated from their parents entering the criminal justice system, is he prepared to submit legislation to prevent the same from happening to U.S. children? If not, why not?Does he think U.S.-born children are less deserving of compassion?

If Northam decries the Trump administration’s “zero tolerance” toward the separation of children, is he prepared to act against Virginia localities that also might have zero-tolerance policies? Does his heart not go out to Virginia children deprived of a mother’s embrace?

Young children are always innocent victims in these things, and they always deserve our compassion. But maybe, just maybe, the administration of justice in the real world gets really complicated and messy because the issues are inherently difficult. People in the law-enforcement community have been wrestling with these issues for years. I’d take Kaine and Northam a lot more seriously if they’d spoken up before now and if they’d addressed the practices in their own back yard.

Will the Real Corey Stewart Please Stand Up?

Minnesota Confederate? Corey Stewart was born in Duluth, Minnesota. He grew up in Minnesota attending St. Olaf College before transferring to Georgetown University to finish his BS degree. He then went back to Minnesota to attend law school before moving permanently to Northern Virginia. So it comes as something of a surprise that this transplanted Minnesotan has such a taste for the Confederate flag. Corey Stewart is a hard man to categorize.

Take my wife, please. Corey Stewart was first elected to the Prince William County Board of Supervisors in 2003 at the relatively young age of 35. Three years later he became the Chairman of the PWC BoS, a position he still holds. His initial notoriety came from the aggressive anti-illegal immigrant posture taken by the entire PWC BoS starting in 2007. The board allowed county police to check the immigration status of anyone, even if the person in question was not suspected of any wrongdoing. The board then cut off all county aid to illegal immigrants. While some say Stewart is anti-immigrant, there is apparently one immigrant that Stewart likes – his wife Maria. Maria is from Sweden and met Corey while they were both teaching English in Japan. Why am I suddenly hearing Chuck Berry lyrics in my head … “I met a German girl in England who was going to school in France”?

If at first you don’t succeed. Stewart is a fixture as Chairman of the Prince William County Board of Supervisors. He’s won four elections to that post getting 57% of the vote in the last of these elections (2015). However, he failed to get the Republican nomination for Lt Governor in 2013, was fired by the Trump Campaign from his post of Virginia campaign manager in 2016 and failed to get the Republican nomination for Governor in 2017. Today, he has won the Republican nomination for US Senate and is running against Tim Kaine. Stewart is widely expected to lose.

Unusual behavior. During his run for Governor Stewart gave away an AR-15 for Christmas. When asked why he was giving away an AR-15, Stewart said that he just couldn’t find a man portable mini-gun to give away. Actually he never said that. However, he did claim in a March, 2018 tweet that that you’re more likely to be killed by Hillary Clinton than an AR-15. During 2017 he used his position on the PWC BoS to support the construction of a mosque in the so-called Rural Crescent area of Prince William County. He was singled out for thanks by the All Dulles Area Muslim Society (ADAMS).  He also faced a recall petition for supporting the Mosque. After losing the Governor’s primary to Ed Gillespie Stewart took to Reddit to call Gillespie a “cuckservative” but then went on to support Gillespie’s campaign.

A hard man to summarize. Stewart is the Minnesota Confederate who supposedly hates immigrants but is married to one. He pushes anti-illegal immigrant laws while supporting the construction of a mosque at risk to his own political career. He can’t lose as BoS Chairman but can’t win much of anything else. He gratuitously insults opponents from his own party and then endorses them for office. He pals around with ultra-right winger Paul Nehlen and then repudiates him after finding out that Nehlen issued anti-Muslim and anti-Semitic tweets in 2016.

Conclusion? I have no conclusion. Corey Stewart is a paradox shrouded in inconsistency while wearing dichotomy’s clothes. I’ll wait for this election to play out a bit more before making a final judgement on Corey Stewart. However, if I were a hashtag artist today I’d have to consider #loon, #sloppy, #impulse_control_issues. But I don’t buy #racist.

— Don Rippert

No Excuse for Immigrant Child Abuse

From the outside, the Shenandoah Valley Juvenile Center in Staunton doesn’t look like a hellhole. What goes on inside?

Governor Ralph Northam has ordered state authorities to investigate allegations that guards at the Shenandoah Valley Juvenile Center beat and otherwise abused children held at the immigration detention facility. The claims, if true, are shocking and must be addressed immediately.

Allegedly, teenagers were restrained, handcuffed, and made to sit with bags over their heads. Some were stripped of their clothes. Some were locked in solitary confinement, some beaten, left with bruises and broken bones and kept shivering in concrete cells. Frankly, I find the accusations, included in a federal civil rights lawsuit, hard to believe. But Northam is surely right to look into the charges. If they are accurate, such treatment cannot be tolerated, and someone needs to be held accountable.

According to the Associated Press, U.S. immigration authorities accused the children of belonging to violent gangs, including MS-13. But a top manager at the Shenandoah center said in recent congressional testimony that they did not appear to be gang members, and that they were suffering from trauma suffered in their home countries — problems the facility is ill-equipped to deal with.

That observation suggests that if the charges are true, critical context may be missing from the lawsuit and sworn statements. Perhaps these teens are prone to outbursts of anger and violence. Perhaps the detainment center lacks appropriate facilities for handling such behavior. Perhaps staff was at wit’s end on how to maintain order. Whatever the case and whatever the mitigating circumstances, we need to find out what’s happening and fix it.

Permit me a philosophical observation: The United States is a sovereign state and a nation of laws. We decide through the political system who is allowed to enter the country and who cannot, and then we enforce the laws. We may or may not like the laws, but we don’t get to pick and choose which ones we enforce. (Got that, sanctuary cities?) The principle of enforcing the law applies both to immigrants who enter the country illegally and to the law enforcement authorities themselves. There is no excuse for beating and abusing detained immigrants.

I would feel much more comfortable with hard-line immigration-control policies if the people who espoused them didn’t also demonize the would-be immigrants. I don’t blame Central Americans for wanting to escape the horrors of their home countries or even to make a better living by entering the U.S. any way they can. If I were in their shoes, I might well do the same thing. Their predicament warrants sympathy and compassion. But that doesn’t give them the right to enter the country illegally. The world is full of miserable, abused and suffering people. We can’t take them all. If we catch people entering the country illegally, we treat them humanely… and then send them back. If we don’t like the laws on the books, we change them.

What Now for Separation of American Women from their Children?

Growth in U.S. female incarceration. Image credit: Prison Policy Initiative

Some 25 years ago I was living in Church Hill, then a sketchy Richmond neighborhood in the early stages of gentrification. One night police lights were flashing in my front window, so I stepped outside to see what was happening. Halfway down the block, a woman on the sidewalk was clutching an infant and bawling as police were confronting her. The police, it transpired, were arresting her on a charge relating to activities in her abode, a notorious crack house, and they had to haul her downtown. “Please don’t take my baby!” she wailed. “Please don’t take my baby!”

Curious, I inspected the premises. Other than a mattress on the floor, the house was bereft of furniture. The stink of dirty diapers permeated every room. I shuddered to think what kind of care the baby was receiving from a crack-addict mother. And I kept thinking, lady, if you don’t want to be separated from your baby, you should have thought about that before you started smoking cocaine. Even so, it was impossible not to feel compassion. The woman’s addiction had not smothered her maternal instinct. She was truly piteous.

I fully confess my ignorance of the inner workings of the U.S. criminal justice system, but it is my impression is that there was nothing unusual about the scene I witnessed, and that nothing significant has changed in the administration of justice since. If a woman is arrested for breaking the law, she is charged with a crime and taken to jail, where she may or may not get bail. She is held there until her trial. If found guilty, she goes to prison. As an inevitable part of the process, the mother is separated from her children, often for a considerable length of time. 

In 2015 the Virginia prison system incarcerated 3,236 female inmates. (A roughly equal number were held in local jails.) The most frequent offenses, according to the Richmond Times-Dispatch, were larceny/fraud (38%); drug sales (14%); robbery (8%); and drug possession (6%). The racial breakdown: 62% white and 37% black. The average age was almost 38. Sixty-two percent were separated from minor children.

The criminal justice system has been separating women from their children pretty much forever. The system has procedures for providing care for the children — handing them over to relatives, holding them in orphanages, placing them in foster homes. There may be other options I’m not familiar with. While that system has been subject to criticism from time to time — sometimes children fall between the institutional cracks — I don’t recall anyone objecting to the underlying necessity of removing children from women who are charged and convicted of crimes.

Even a recent study by the leftist Prison Policy Initiative, which absurdly manages to find injustice in the treatment of women in a prison population in which 90% of the inmates are men, mentioned the issue of children only in passing, and mainly in the context that female inmates should be allowed more face-to-face time with them.

Now, over the course of a two or three weeks, the nation has totally flipped on the issue — not out of concern for American citizens caught in the criminal justice system, but for families seeking to enter the country illegally. All of a sudden, it’s an affront to the country’s moral conscience that children are separated from mothers being held in detention while awaiting adjudication. My point is not to criticize or defend the behavior of either President Trump or his enemies in the media, but to explore the implications of this new way of thinking for the administration of criminal justice here in Virginia.

If it is a shocking violation of American values to remove children from parents entering the country illegally, is it a shocking violation of American values to do the same with American citizens breaking state laws? If justice requires ending the practice for Guatemalans and Salvadorans entering California, does logic now impel us to do the same for Americans here in Virginia? If so, are we morally obligated to overhaul Virginia’s criminal justice system so mothers are never again separated from their young children before they are convicted of a crime and sent to prison?

Taking President Trump out of the equation so we can think calmly and rationally, not viscerally, what criteria do we apply? What is the proper balance between having a humane criminal justice system and one that expeditiously carries out the laws of Virginia? Do we apply one set of rules to immigrants and a harsher set of rules to native-born Americans? Or do we overhaul criminal justice across the board, not just at the border? I don’t see how we avoid asking these questions now.

Fudging Differences between Legal and Illegal Immigrants

Big difference in educational attainment between legal and illegal immigrants.

The big difference in educational attainment between legal and illegal immigrants doesn’t come through in this graph. Credit: Commonwealth Institute

Immigrants residing in Virginia are better educated and more entrepreneurial than commonly perceived, says a new report by the Commonwealth Institute (CI), “Virginia Immigrants in  the Economy.”

That’s true.

Yet immigrants’ contributions to the U.S. economy are often minimized by “some state and federal lawmakers,” adds a press release accompanying the report. In truth, immigrants make our communities and economy stronger, says Laura Goren, CI research director and co-author. “Too many politicians are using scare tactics and divisive rhetoric about immigrants to advance their own agendas.”

Grrrr. I must take issue.

In attributing “scare tactics and divisive rhetoric” to shadowy others, Goren is guilty of the very behavior she decries. Whether due to simple naivete or deliberate obfuscation, I don’t know, she conflates legal immigrants with illegal immigrants. Thus, legal immigrants, who make a large positive contribution to Virginia’s economy, provide statistical cover for illegal immigrants, whose net contribution is problematic.

That’s an turn-off to readers who otherwise might find value in the report, which does contain some useful information. Foreign-born inhabitants now constitute 12.2% of the state’s population, for instance, with the heaviest concentration in Northern Virginia. More than half the foreign-born population has become naturalized.

…Neither does the difference in entrepreneurial vitality.

Virginia immigrants are more likely than native-born Americans to hold a college degree, the report informs us. They have slightly higher incomes, and they are more likely to be self-employed or own a business.

“In sum, Virginia immigrants are relatively young, well educated, fluent in English, and more likely to participate in the workforce,” says the study. “This powerful combination reflects the substantial capacity for immigrants to contribute to the state’s economy.”

But average numbers obscure important differences between different categories of immigrants. Forty percent of Virginia immigrants are well educated (college or graduate degrees) and wind up working in professional and technology fields. But, according to CI’s data, 20% lack a high school degree, a much higher percentage than for the native-born population. In other words, we are looking at two very different groups — one highly educated and affluent (mostly legal) and one ill-educated and poor (mostly illegal).

I know of no respectable voices in Virginia who say we should clamp down on all immigrants. (There might be a tiny percentage of white nationalists who advance that argument, but their numbers are insignificant.) The controversy over immigration focuses on poor, ill-educated immigrants, mostly though not exclusively from Latin American countries, who compete with similarly poor, ill-educated native-born Americans. These immigrants (mostly illegal) drive down wages of unskilled occupations, and put a burden on educational and social services.

I’ve never heard anyone hint that there’s too darn many Indians, Chinese, Vietnamese or Koreans in Virginia. That’s because Asian-Americans quickly learn English, rapidly assimilate to mainstream norms, become educated, launch job-creating businesses, and place minimal stress on the welfare state. Their presence is indisputably a net benefit to society.

By contrast, the Commonwealth Institute concedes that there are “challenges” associated with between 275,000 and 300,000 unauthorized immigrants. Nearly one in five live below the poverty line, and 58% lack health insurance. When one calculates the impact of illegal immigrants on the wage levels of unskilled workers, on schools, on the welfare state, and on the criminal justice system, this sub-set does not look like a net benefit to American society.

The study contends that illegals make a positive contribution, contributing $250 million in state and local taxes. If provided a path to citizenship, they could generate an estimated $100 million more. To the Commonwealth Institute, the problem isn’t foreigners illegally entering the U.S., but the mean people who treat illegals as second-class citizens. Says the report: “Lack of access to health care and threats of deportation and discrimination all make unauthorized immigrants and their families less able to contribute to the communities in which they live.”

I don’t believe in demonizing illegal immigrants for the sin of wanting to build better lives in Virginia. I don’t bear them any animus. I think it is wrong to abuse or mistreat them. But I also believe that a sovereign state has the inherent right to choose who can enter the country and upon what terms and conditions they do so. Foreigners have no right to live in the United States. One can make an argument that the U.S. should expand opportunities for foreigners to enter the country legally, but only on the purely utilitarian grounds that their presence benefits the rest of us. Accordingly, I think we should give preferential treatment, as many other countries do, to those who can contribute to the national wealth and well being over those who cannot.

Having a rational conversation requires that we draw distinctions between immigrants on the basis of education, skills, wealth, age, ability to assimilate, and proclivity to become a burden on the state. It is difficult to have that conversation when we lump all “immigrants” together.