Profiles in courage

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Here’s a dilemma for you: Let’s say you’re a mean-spirited municipality that doesn’t cotton much to outsiders, and prefers to scapegoat a powerless group of caramel-colored folks for all of its (largely self-inflicted) problems. Now, let’s say you pass an ill-conceived law transparently designed to harass and demonize anyone with a healthy tan and a spicy, south-of-the-border accent. So far, so good, right? Now let’s say that, during the all-important implementation phase of said law, it turns out that these new programs are going to cost a boatload of taxpayer dinero. Unfortunately, this metaphorical cash-filled boat has suddenly sprung a massive leak, because—surprise!—it’s a houseboat, and plummeting property values have compromised both its seaworthiness and fabled ability to support untold amounts of cash.

Oh, what’s a poor, illegal immigrant-bashing Board of County Supervisors to do?

Well, this is the exact dilemma currently facing the hardworking, office-holding xenophobes of Prince William County, who have long fed off the voting public’s fear of an impending Mexican invasion of Northern Virginia. Led by Board Chairman Corey A. Stewart, and backed by the hyperbolically named anti-illegals group Help Save Manassas (run by ex-infantryman and current computer consultant Greg Letiecq), the Prince William politicos voted for an illegal-immigration crackdown program last October that, among other things, instructed police officers to check the residency status of any “criminal suspect” who looked like they might have recently waded across the Rio Grande.

The problem with this brilliant piece of legislation, as any frequent viewer of “Law & Order” can tell you, is that accosting random dark-skinned people and demanding to see their green cards is commonly known as “racial profiling,” and can get a police department in all sorts of legal trouble. And so, to prepare for the flood of court cases that will almost certainly result from this “walking while beige” suspect-accosting policy, the county police department requested dashboard-mounted video cameras for all of its vehicles, in order to show that its officers were only asking about residency after observing possible criminal behavior, and not merely because someone was observed eating their arroz con pollo with a little too much gusto.

But, gosh darn the luck, cameras cost money! As does housing and feeding the hundreds of new prisoners being held on immigration-related charges in the Prince William County jail (the Board originally insisted that only 40 people a month would be detained under the program, but the jail’s superintendent, Major Peter Meletis, now estimates that 73 immigration-related in-mates a month have arrived since the law took effect last September). And don’t forget the extra money you’ll need to fight the numerous legal challenges to your impressively discriminatory policies. And hey, did we mention that housing prices (and the attendant tax revenue) are in the toilet?

But not to worry, everything’s sure to work out just fine in the end. As Chairman Stewart recently told The Washington Post, “we need to give this program a chance to work. We are blazing a new trail. It’s not easy. We need to define ourselves and not let the naysayers define us.”

Well, you know what, Mr. Stewart? As longstanding naysayers, we have a little piece of unsolicited advice for you. Instead of arresting people just because they want to live and work in your once-thriving county, perhaps you should allow them to go about the business of pursuing the American dream peacefully and without undue harassment, and thus encourage them to find decent jobs, buy cars and houses, and pay taxes. And guess what? Those taxes might just help plug the leaks in that fiscal houseboat you’re currently steering over a raging waterfall. In short, Chairman Stewart, if you really want to find a way out of Prince William’s current financial morass, you just need to ask yourself one simple question:

What can brown do for you?

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