Thursday, July 10, 2008
We have previously reported about the efforts of Prince William County, Virginia to crack down on immigration. It has become clear that Latino immigrants and citizens are leaving the county, to the dismay of some businesses and the cheers of some white residents.
Supporters of the local immigration measures have claimed that the laws will promote self-deportation and promote adherence to the federal immigration laws. But the Latinos moving out of Prince William County seem to be moving to neighboring localities and states. So much for enforcing the U.S. immigration laws! But perhaps the real aim of these laws is ethnic cleansing a la Prince William County, VA and Hazleton, PA? Head 'em up, move 'em out!
The end result, I bet, is a new-if-not improved "sundown town." Sundown towns were communities in the United States that emerged after the Civil War in which non-whites — especially African Americans — were systematically excluded from town after the sun set. This allowed maids and workers to provide services during the day without them living in town. De facto sundown towns existed at least into the 1970s. James W. Lowen's excellent book Sundown Towns: A Hidden Dimension of American Racism (2005) offers a comprehensive history of sundown towns.
The new sundown town will have Latina/o immigrant workers by day but a white-dominated town at night. Sad but, I fear, true -- at least if cities and counties are allowed to enact anti-immigrant laws.
UPDATE Anna Gorman in the July 13 L.A. Times offers another example of an effort to create a modern sundown town. The story outlines how the city of Escondido, California, not that many miles from the U.S./Mexico border, has tried to rid itself of undocumented immigrants through immigration sweeps, driver's license checkpoints, city codes and other policies.