Prince William Policy Vindicated?

We have read posts filed periodically on this blog by a co-blogger (I won’t mention any names but his initials are PG) about the “xenophobic” motives behind the “wicked brew of discriminatory laws” enacted by the “Know Nothings” of Prince William County. Chief among the ordinances passed back in 2007 and 2008 was a provision that required county police to inquire into the immigration status of people detained for a violation of state or local law.

The question of how to deal with undocumented workers in Prince William County flared into a heated controversy that not only outraged PG but attracted national attention. With the passage of three years, emotions have settled down. It is now appropriate to ask, how did things work out?

As it happens, the Center for Survey Research, a unit of the Weldon Cooper Center for the University of Virginia, has just published an exhaustive analysis at the request of the Prince William County Police Department, which funded the study. The report, “Evaluation Study of Prince William County Police Illegal Immigration Enforcement Policy,” provides a nuanced picture that will provide ammunition for both sides of the debate. But proponents of the policy are most likely to feel vindicated. (See the PowerPoint summary here.)

The seven authors concluded that the policy was “smoothly implemented” and the county experienced few of the dire consequences — overzealous enforcement by police, a flood of litigation — of which opponents warned. Hispanics were not subjected to a wave of invidious racial profiling. Of the roughly 3,000 suspected illegals checked by police between March 2008 and June 2010, 99% were confirmed to be illegal.

Moreover, the policy had a modestly beneficial effect on the crime rate. In 2009 illegals accounted for for 8% of the arrests for rape, 3% for robbery, 9% for aggravated assault, and 6% for larceny. The biggest impact was on arrests for public drunkenness, 22.4% of which involved illegals. Overall, crime rates trended down slightly in 2008 as compared to 2007. A modest decline in violent crimes departed from the experience of other municipalities in the Washington, D.C. region.

The numbers do not bear out the prejudices of those who painted illegals as especially inclined toward criminality. But neither do they support claims that undocumented workers are more likely to be law-abiding than native-born citizens.

The study could document no financial savings to Prince William taxpayers, undermining one of the claims that agitated the send-the-illegals-home movement. The number of English-as-Second-Language students leveled off but did not decline. Most other services are federally regulated or funded, and most are denied to illegal immigrants by federal law or county ordinance.

As for public nuisances, the experience was a mixed bag. Prince William experienced a dramatic decline in the number of complaints about parking in overcrowded properties — down 38% — and less loitering at day labor sites. Yet weed/tall grass violations doubled between 2006 and 2008.

To me, the most interesting finding came from polling data that tracked Hispanics’ attitudes toward the county police and the county generally. The percentage of Hispanic respondants who had a favorable view of Prince William’s quality of life and expressed trust in county government took a nose dive between 2007 and 2008, clearly reflecting the fears engendered by the controversy and the wave of accusations that the new policies were motivated by xenophobia, dislike of “brown people,” hostility to Hispanics and so on.

What is remarkable is how strongly the opinions of Hispanics have bounced back. In 2010, Hispanics were more likely than blacks and others (presumably whites and Asians) to “want to live in PWC 5 years from now.” Admittedly, Hispanics don’t feel as favorably about the county as they did before the controversy erupted, when their views were more positive than those of whites or blacks by an ever higher margin.

The UVa researchers concluded that “it IS possible for a local government to have an impact on its illegal immigration experience.” Hispanics, for the most part, have gotten over the controversy. Maybe the rest of us should, too.

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20 responses to “Prince William Policy Vindicated?”

  1. Vindicated? Nope.

    First – the "policy" did not the intended effect that was expected by those who wanted the policy to achieve certain things – like running the Hispanics out of the county.

    Second – the "crime" correlation is laughable.

    arrests for public drunkenness?

    if this were black people – the view about the "effectiveness" of the policy would have ramifications for sure but not the kind that would be trumpeted as good crime control.

    Bad column Jim.

    Weak .. and if anything .. essentially proves that the policy did not achieve what it was intended to achieve by it's supporters – and the results they did get were inconclusive at best and a bit suspect at worst.

    For whatever reason – the anti-immigrant/anti-illegal fervor has subsided these days – I suspect as those who hold that philosophy are starting to realize that they are in a distinct minority and there is almost zero chance that any major legislation that they want is going to succeed at the State or Federal Level.

    And of course, these same folks became horrified that in addition to an illegal alien problem we have a "Muslim" problem also..

    No peace for the paranoid, eh?

    Maybe, now, we can start to work on reasonable and effective reforms.

  2. James A. Bacon Avatar
    James A. Bacon

    Waldo, thanks for correcting the URL. I have updated the original post.

    Second point, Larry and Waldo: For the record, I noted that the report contained findings that would buttress both sides of the argument. (Note the question mark in the headline.) I did not declare it a ringing endorsement for Corey Steward & Co. But Google the report, and you'll certainly find that they claim vindication.

    Third, regarding the impact on crime, please note that I summarized the impact as "modestly beneficial." Drawing from the PowerPoint (page 75): while the policy "did not affect most types of crime and disorder," "serious assaults declined" following the policy's announcement, and the decline was concentrated in Hispanic neighborhoods.

    As for laughing off the decline in public drunkenness, Larry, drinking and driving don't mix — indeed they kill people. As you should know from a couple of highly publicized cases. Along those lines, the number of hit-and-run incidents in the county declined markedly (page 76). Illegals, for fear of getting caught, are far more tempted to race away from the scene of an accident.

    Add it all up. Is this a dramatic effect? No. I didn't say it was. But it did bring about a "modest" improvement to the overall crime situation.

    Fourth, Waldo, regarding the polling numbers that you couldn't find. I quote from the PowerPoint presentation (page 113). The data runs through 2010, incorporating data generated since the 2009 version of the report was written.

  3. Jim – I'm not dismissing the importance of drunken driving but I'd point out two things:

    1. public drunkenness is a different crime that drunken driving

    2. – anytime you attribute a specific type of crime to a particular demographic group – I think no matter how you try to couch it differently – it comes out sounding exactly like what it is.

    There's been a whale of a lot of right wing blathering about how illegals are committing "criminal" acts.. and that they "need to be stopped"…. by …."send them home".

    tell me this sounds like a reasonable argument…. NOT!

    next thing we know- we'll start seeing breathless reports from the same right wing sources about how "Muslim Terrorists" are now using cars to run down Americans in the streets.

    come on Jim – you're hanging out in the wrong blogosphere on this…

  4. Anonymous Avatar

    Just talked to Dr. Risse about this.

    He says that he sent you a copy of a recent Wash Post editorial that comes to a different conclusion.

    Your thoughts on the editorial?


  5. James A. Bacon Avatar
    James A. Bacon

    Observer, I don't recall seeing that WaPo editorial.

  6. James A. Bacon Avatar
    James A. Bacon

    Larry, you said, "Anytime you attribute a specific type of crime to a particular demographic group – I think no matter how you try to couch it differently – it comes out sounding exactly like what it is."

    What are you saying? That the incidence of different types of crime do *not* vary by ethnic group? That all types of crime are pretty much uniform across American society?

    Would you not admit that whites are more likely than other groups to "go postal" in killing/suicide rampages or to engage in serial sex/murder crimes?

  7. Jim – are you saying that we should have laws and policies that vary according to the ethnic incidence level of criminal activity?

    I support one law and one enforcement policy no matter the demographic.

    Do you not?

  8. Anonymous Avatar

    Mr. Bacon:

    I checked and Prof. Risse says he sent you Email and himself a copy that has not showed up yet.

    The good doctor is a klutz on the key board due to a disability so you may not have gotten it either.

    Here is the editorial url from Nov 24th

    And a news story from Nov 19 or 21st

    And a local opinion.

    All seem to support Waldo’s view more than yours.


  9. Waldo Jaquith Avatar
    Waldo Jaquith

    I'm afraid my comment has vanished into the ether, Jim. Could you restore it to its former…er…glory? 🙂

  10. yeah.. I never saw Waldo's comment either.

  11. Gooze Views Avatar
    Gooze Views

    Since JAB seems to be having "email problems" here is the Washington Post editorial on the very same topic.

    I find it hysterical how different it is and, depending on whose version one reads how the study did anything but "vindicate" Prince William"

    Peter Galuszka
    The editorial:

    AFTER 31/2 YEARS and some $3 million in public spending, Prince William County's crusade against illegal immigrants – launched almost single-handedly by an ambitious local politician who has made nativism his stock in trade – has confirmed the county's reputation as a national symbol of intolerance. Now, a study by scholars at the University of Virginia has exposed just what was achieved, and wasn't, when Virginia's second-largest locality undertook its campaign against undocumented workers.

    Prince William citizens had been much less concerned with illegal immigration than with traffic and development, but in 2007 Board of Supervisors Chairman Corey A. Stewart (R-At Large) put the issue center stage and pushed through a policy that turned out to be a precursor to the one adopted this year in Arizona. Implemented in 2008, it authorized police to check the immigration status of anyone they detained who they suspected might be in the country illegally. After a public uproar, the county watered down the policy – immigration checks are now done only after arrest, and for everyone taken into custody – but the damage to the county's name was done.

    The study, paid for by the county, concludes that the crackdown did succeed in driving away – though in many cases probably not very far away – a few thousand illegal immigrants, along with some legal ones. That's unsurprising given that illegal immigrants were the targets of such overheated debate.

    But the price of that "success" was to cement Prince William's image of hostility toward immigrants, specifically Hispanic ones. While the (largely legal) Hispanic population continued to boom in most area jurisdictions, it stagnated in Prince William after 2007.

    Politicians promised that the county's enforcement efforts would save money by slashing public programs benefiting undocumented immigrants. It did no such thing, since illegal immigrants aren't eligible for most such programs. They suggested it would do away with loitering by migrant workers seeking day jobs. In fact, day-worker sites continue to operate today much as they did before.

    Politicians also said the campaign would decrease crime overall. But, the report concludes, illegal immigrants constituted a small portion of those arrested, and the crackdown had little effect on most kinds of crime – though it may have contributed somewhat to reductions in aggravated assault and hit-and-run accidents.

    The report also blames the crusade for stoking tensions between Prince William police officers and Hispanics, who make up 20 percent of the county's residents. Relations have now improved, but only thanks to an intensive and sustained repair job by the county's well-regarded police department and an enlightened police chief.

    Mr. Stewart is now urging other Virginia localities to follow Prince William's lead. He misleadingly portrays the U-Va. report as vindication of the county's crackdown, which it clearly is not. In fact, it is a cautionary tale, and other local officials in the state would be wise to read the report before they embrace the Prince William model.

  12. James A. Bacon Avatar
    James A. Bacon

    Peter, thanks for posting the WaPo editorial.

    My reaction: The editorial writers cherry picked the data from the report that fit their preconceived point of view. My blog posting was a lot more balanced in presenting the report findings.

    I would tweak the last line of the editorial as follows: "Local officials in the state would be wise to read the report before they embrace the Washington Post editorial line."

  13. James A. Bacon Avatar
    James A. Bacon

    Waldo, I am distressed that your comment disappeared into the vapor. I have no idea how that might have happened. As the administrator, I'm the only one who could have deleted it, and it is possible that I may have deleted it accidentally, although I don't see how that could have happened because I have to deliberately click on a little trashcan icon, which I don't think I could have done even in a fit of absent-mindedness.

    Unfortunately, blogger offers no way to un-delete a comment (unlike, say, WordPress, which I use for my other blog), so there is no way to resurrect it. My apologies.

    Waldo comments on Bacon's Rebellion are like gems — valued not only for their intrinsic beauty but for their scarcity. I hate to lose a single one.

  14. Gooze Views Avatar
    Gooze Views

    Jim Bacon,
    The Washington Post editorial "cherry-picked?" And you didn't? Hah!

    Peter Galuszka

  15. it appears.. that just like the other "facts" that are disputed, we can add to that – the definition of "cherry pick".


  16. Anonymous Avatar

    Do we want laws enforced or not? That seems to be the basic question. If we agree that we do, then there is a question about how they are to be enforced. Attrition works. The combination of cracking down on employers, securing borders and checking the lawful residency status seems to be working.

    Fred Hiatt, on the other hand, wants open borders to justify higher government expenditures and higher taxes. When wages for low-skilled workers rise for three years in a row, we've pretty well secured our borders and can talk about other issues, including dealing with those people who have been here for many years.


  17. My original position was that the pa policy was xenophobia, painted over with hyperinflated crime and cost data. Analogous in many ways to the xenophobia towards developers painted over with hyperinflated environmental and cost concerns. In both cases people are resistant to change and percieved degradation. In both cases they want a fix at the expense of others, especially newcomers.

  18. In terms of "illegal" immigration, a substantial number of "illegals" are people NOT from Mexico who overstay their VISAs.

    How does the Prince William policy equally apply to all "illegals" regardless of their country of origin or how they got here?

  19. I'm now inclined to be willing to believe the pw policy was not 100% bad, and also not an unqualified success.

  20. Waldo Jaquith Avatar
    Waldo Jaquith

    🙂 Accidents happen, Jim—no harm!

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