Across the country, the boom in unaccompanied minors emigrating from Central America has caused federal authorities to devote more resources to border protection and enforce stricter deportation policies.
While one Arlington official is calling the growth in this population a “crisis,” most say we’re not there yet. Nonetheless, the county is monitoring the situation and making preparations before such immigrants start to have an impact.
Last week, the Sun Gazette reported that School Board member Emma Violand-Sanchez and County Board member Walter Tejada met with representatives from the Guatemalan Consulate to discuss the trend of unaccompanied minor immigrants, and, after the meeting, Violand-Sanchez told the School Board it was a “crisis situation.”
Tejada told ARLnow.com this morning that, while he wouldn’t characterize Arlington’s current population of unaccompanied minors as a crisis, the county is taking steps to prepare in case the population grows substantially.
“We’re organizing right now and saying, ‘how do we deal with this, what issues are we confronting?’” Tejada said. “The most important question is the welfare of the kids. How do we protect the children from being taken advantage of and falling into the wrong world? It’s a very complicated situation.”
According to Arlington Public Schools spokeswoman Linda Erdos, there were only 10 students identified as “homeless/unaccompanied youth” in the last school year. There were also 83 students in APS’ “Accelerated Literacy Support” program as of June, for older students new to the country who need additional literary support. That number increased from 22 students in June 2012.
“Because we are currently on summer break, we may not know the full impact on APS of the immigration of youth from Central America until the end of August and/or later in the 2014-15 school year,” Erdos said in an email. “We know that we need to be prepared to address this, given the reports in the media, and the response from the President and the federal government. We are also watching the situation closely because we know this may have a major impact on our operating budget.”
Arlington’s Department of Human Services hasn’t seen an increase in unaccompanied minors, according to department spokesman Kurt Larrick. There are always a few who come to the county every year, Larrick said, and those “tend to be older, they tend to have had a rough life at home.”
“I don’t think we’re at a crisis now by any means,” Larrick said. “We’re a long way from the Central American border so I don’t think it’s as acute locally as in other parts of the country.”
Both Larrick and Erdos said Arlington is an appealing destination for many of these immigrants because of its reputation for being welcoming, which dates back to accepting Vietnamese refugees during and after the Vietnam War in the 1970s.
Tejada said it’s impossible to know if the immigrants will eventually come to Arlington in large numbers, but instead of “being reactionary” as the county has been in the past to similar issues, this time the county is being proactive. Tejada said the county plans to organize “mobile Consulates” from different countries with populations in Arlington, such as El Salvador and Guatemala, in August.
“We’re alerting our partners to stand by,” Tejada said. ”There will be a call to action at some point, but we have to be careful not to put out a false call when there is no need.”
Morgan Fecto contributed to this report
Graham Holdings Coming to Rosslyn — Graham Holdings, the firm once known as the Washington Post Company, is moving to Rosslyn. Now without the namesake newspaper, Graham Holdings includes education firm Kaplan, a cable television business, Slate.com, Foreign Policy magazine, and social marketing firm SocialCode. The company is moving to a 34,000 square foot space in Arlington Tower, at 1300 17th Street N. The move will help Rosslyn — home to WJLA, NewsChannel 8, Politico and the Washington Business Journal – brand itself as an emerging “media hub.” [Washington Post]
Sickles Enters Congressional Race — Del. Mark Sickles, who represents Fairfax County in the Virginia House of Delegates, is now the fifth Democrat to enter the race to replace Rep. Jim Moran (D) in Congress. [Roll Call]
TJ Prospects May Get Testing Do-Over — Students from Arlington, Fairfax and Loudoun counties who took the entrance exam for Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology, a magnet school, may get a do-over. Technical difficulties prevented some students from saving the essay portion of the computer exam. [Reston Now]
Arlington Group Helps Undocumented Students — The Dream Project, an Arlington-based organization, is helping undocumented students apply and pay for college. The group was co-founded four years ago by Arlington School Board member Emma Violand-Sanchez. [Washington Post]
Pike Road Closures Tonight — VDOT will be removing an overhead sign across Columbia Pike at S. Queen Street tonight. Drivers should expect road closures of “up to 20 minutes at a time,” according to Arlington County. [Twitter]
Flickr pool photo by J. Sonder
Peter’s Take is a weekly opinion column. The views and opinions expressed in this column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ARLnow.com.
In last week’s column, I outlined the reasons to support Medicaid expansion in the 2014 session of the Virginia legislature. Today, I’d like to highlight the reasons why Virginia should pass the Dream Act this year.
The Virginia Dream Act will enable a student who is a child of undocumented immigrants to pay the in-state tuition rate at Virginia colleges and universities—if that student meets certain criteria. In a bill proposed by Arlington Democratic Delegate Alfonso Lopez, a student will be eligible for the in-state tuition rate if he/she:
- has attended a Virginia public or private high school for at least three years;
- has graduated from a Virginia public or private high school or received a General Education Development (GED) certificate in Virginia;
- has registered as an entering student or is enrolled in a public institution of higher education in Virginia;
- has provided documentation that the student has been approved for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security; and
- has submitted evidence that the student (or, in the case of a dependent student, at least one parent, guardian, or person standing in loco parentis) has filed Virginia income tax returns for at least three years.
Fairfax Republican Del. Tom Rust again will work with Del. Lopez to generate bipartisan support for this legislation.
The moral reasons to support this legislation include:
- These students were brought to the U.S. at a young age by their parents, and had no say in the decision to come here. They never made a choice to disregard U.S. immigration law; and
- The vast majority of these students are as American as native-born citizens. They speak English, and understand American life and culture.
As explained by Delegate Lopez, we also should support this legislation because Virginia currently has invested taxpayer dollars in these students “from kindergarten through 12th grade, but put up a barrier after graduation that only serves to drive away top talent from Virginia.”
Let’s support passage of the Virginia Dream Act.
It’s right for Arlington and right for Virginia.
Peter Rousselot is a former member of the Central Committee of the Democratic Party of Virginia and former chair of the Arlington County Democratic Committee.
Entitled “Building a Stronger Nation: Reforming Out Broken Immigration System,” the Moran-organized forum attracted several dozen attendees to Kenmore Middle School’s auditorium. The congressman and the panelists told the audience that immigration reform would energize the economy, bring in additional tax revenue, and enable immigrants to live a more productive and fulfilling life.
In his opening remarks, Moran said bipartisan immigration legislation that’s currently being crafted in the Senate has a better shot at becoming law than any other recent attempt at immigration reform.
“The possibility for reform today may be better than it’s ever been,” he said. “Now is the best time in recent memory for enacting comprehensive immigration reform. But the enactment of reforms is by no means guaranteed… in a Congress that can’t seem to agree on anything of consequence.”
Moran said immigration reform is particularly important in Northern Virginia, where 27 percent of the population is foreign-born. (Of that foreign-born population, 38 percent of come from Latin America, 36 percent from Asia, 16 percent from Africa and 10 from Europe, according to statistics cited by Moran.)
Panelists made moral and economic arguments for immigration reform.
Patrick Oakford, who researches immigration issues for the liberal Center for American Progress, said that legalizing the 11 million undocumented immigrants in the United States could boost the economy by $832 billion over 10 years while raising the wages paid to immigrants.
Arlington County Board Chair Walter Tejada said immigration reform would help cash-strapped local governments. It would also help police departments, he said, by facilitating better cooperation with an immigrant community that’s currently fearful of law enforcement.
“The future of our nation is brighter by providing a path for citizenship,” Tejada said. “We really need to get behind and support our leaders in Congress.”
Other panelists tried to shoot down some of the arguments against immigration reform.
Kristian Ramos of the New Policy Institute, pro-immigration think tank, said immigration reform won’t open the floodgates to Mexican immigrants. He said that Mexico’s growing economy has helped to significantly reduce the flow of undocumented immigrants into the United States by providing more jobs and opportunities in Mexico. He also pointed out that that crime is down near the U.S.-Mexico border.
Two months after holding a raucous forum on gun violence, Rep. Jim Moran (D-Va.) is planning a public forum on another hot-button topic.
On Tuesday, May 14, from 7:00 to 9:00 p.m. at Kenmore Middle School (200 S. Carlin Springs Road), Moran will host a forum entitled “Building a Stronger Nation: Reforming Our Broken Immigration System.”
Just as the gun violence forum featured panelists that largely shared Moran’s gun control views, the immigration forum will feature panelists who favor liberal immigration policies: County Board Chair Walter Tejada, plus representatives from the Center for American Progress, the National Immigration Law Center and the American Immigration Lawyers Association.
“The panel discussion will outline systemic problems in our current immigration system and layout the comprehensive reform plans that are currently under consideration in Congress,” said a press release for the event.
“There are an estimated 10 – 11 million undocumented immigrants living in America, the majority having settled here more than a decade ago,” the press release said. “Reforming the broken immigration system to resolve the status for these individuals has the potential to boost the entire U.S. economy, adding over $800 billion to the national GDP over the next decade and creating over 100,000 more jobs per year.”
Miguel Angel Pinedo-Valdivia, 50, has been charged with Attempted Forcible Sodomy in connection with an incident on Thursday, April 11. Police say Pinedo-Valdivia, who has ties to residences in Arlington County and Maryland, picked up a 17-year-old boy outside a restaurant on the 4100 block of Columbia Pike, offering the boy potential work.
“The victim, being in the country only a few months, was tricked into a back seat of a vehicle thinking he had an offer of employment,” said Arlington County Police Department spokesman Dustin Sternbeck.
Pinedo-Valdivia drove his Mercedes sedan into Maryland, where he engaged in “aggressive sexual advances…. and inappropriate touching” of the boy, according to Sternbeck. The man then drove back into Arlington County, where he again tried to sexually assault the 17-year-old, Sternbeck said.
“After numerous unsuccessful attempts to sexually assault the victim, along with additional pleas to stop, the suspect then allowed the victim to exit the vehicle,” said Sternbeck.
Investigators believe Pinedo-Valdivia may have assaulted other young immigrants, and are asking for any victims to step forward.
“Information revealed in the investigation indicates that there are potentially other victims and police believe Pinedo-Valdivia could be targeting the Hispanic immigrant population,” police said in a press release. “Anyone who has information about this suspect or has information on additional victims is asked to call Detective Hermes Molina at 703.228.4208 or email email@example.com. To report information anonymously, contact the Arlington County Crime Solvers at 866.411.TIPS (8477).”
Blog Points Out Bike Lane Blockers — Frustrated with supposed inaction by Arlington County Police, a local resident has created a Tumblr site to publicly “shame” the owners of vehicles that illegally park or idle in bike lanes in Arlington. [Arlington Bike Lane Blockers]
Clarendon Farmers Market Starts Tonight — The Clarendon Farmers Market is back for the season, starting tonight. The market will run from 3:00 to 7:00 p.m., in the newly renovated Clarendon Central Park, next to the Metro entrance. The market will run every Wednesday through Dec. 18 before taking a break for the winter. Another seasonal farmers market, the Crystal City Freshfarm Market, is set to start the season on Tuesday, April 30. [Clarendon Alliance, Freshfarm Markets]
District Taco to Open Third Location — District Taco, which opened its first location on Lee Highway, is getting ready to open its third location. The new District Taco restaurant, like the second location, will be located in D.C. [Prince of Petworth]
Tejada Talks Immigration Reform — County Board Chair Walter Tejada spoke to a group of pro-immigration supporters at St. Charles Borromeo Catholic Church in Clarendon Tuesday morning. Tejada told the crowth that “it is our duty” to “work and fight together for comprehensive immigration reform.” The group is planning a rally at the Capitol next week. [WJLA]
Fire Weather Watch — The region is under a Fire Weather Watch. Gusty winds and low humidity are creating ideal conditions for brush fires. [Capital Weather Gang]
Independent’s Day is an occasional opinion column by published on Wednesdays. The views and opinions expressed in the column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ARLnow.com.
Last Saturday I attended an event in Falls Church hosted by what was called the “Virginians for Comprehensive Immigration Reform — Strategy Meeting.”
In attendance were various notables from the political and immigration reform community. There was Arlington County Board Chairman Walter Tejada, 49th District Delegate Alfonso Lopez, and representatives from every one of Virginia’s eleven U.S. Congressional Districts. Also present were representatives from Senator Mark Warner and Senator Tim Kaine’s offices, as well as the organizer of the Virginia Coalition of Latino Organizations (VACOLAO), Chair Edgar Aranda-Yanoc.
Stated briefly, the goals were to:
- Create some consensus around the principles of the Comprehensive Immigration Reform (CIR) debate.
- Form a strategy on creating awareness around current CIR legislation being considered and advocate for its urgency.
It was quite an afternoon. The event had no partisan intent, but politics were very much on the lips of the presenters (as a means to an end). Leni Gonzalez, from the League of United Latin American Citizens Council (LULAC), took the time to describe each Congressman’s position on immigration reform. She referenced both where each had been on the issue and where they needed some “gentle pushing.” The afternoon was a call for not just vocal but political participation on one of this year’s most provocative issues.
Not surprisingly, our neighbors had a broad and deep knowledge of the issues affecting immigrants, though not everyone was in agreement with all of the fixes being discussed. A question was asked regarding to what extent people of dissenting views were invited. The answer was muddled or mumbled, I can’t remember which, but it made clear the challenges associated with “grass roots” organizations when in their infancy. This group is just now coming together when legislation is imminent. Taken in the context of a Senate bill that may be completed by early April, the urgency for a clear consensus on the needs of stakeholders (families, businesses, first responders, etc.) is apparent but perhaps unlikely.
I happen to agree that eleven million people will not “self-deport” and should be given a mechanism for legal status; one that neither overwhelms our systems for processing them nor disenfranchises those who have endured years-long waiting periods.
But to properly begin dealing with the immigration issue, we will need to ensure that there are resources, both human and financial, that can undertake whatever decisions our politicians make. To truly “go big” we should first address the underlying resource limitations.
The US Citizen and Immigration Services (USCIS) is the agency tasked with legal immigration into the United States. It does not cost taxpayers anything; its costs are funded by the ones doing the “immigrating.” As with all user-fee agencies, USCIS funds are sent to the federal government’s General Fund at the end of the year and later must be appropriated back to have its budget funded. But there is no guarantee that the funding will match the revenue that was generated or could be generated by USCIS.
If we changed the law to allow USCIS to expand, in direct relationship to the demand upon its services, we could see improved efficiency, encourage legal immigration and give hope to federal workers; hope that the pile of green card applications on their desk may one day become manageable. And all it would cost U.S. taxpayers is a little creativity — a change in how we appropriate funds to user-fee agencies.
We would then be dealing with the issue behind the issue of legal immigration.
Jason Howell, a former accountant and motivational speaker, ran as an independent candidate for U.S. Congress in 2012.
The demonstration, organized in part by the Laborers International Union of North America, will protest the “use of immigration status against workers” by Corinthian Contractors, Inc. Arlington residents and local immigration groups are expected to protest outside the company’s Shirlington-area headquarters.
Tejada will “stop by the event,” according to a spokeswoman.
In a press advisory, protest organizers accused Corinthian Contractors of threatening laborers with deportation after they complained about not receiving a fair wage.
On December 2, a group of workers sent a letter to their employer, Corinthian Contractors, Inc., asking to be paid the legally required minimum wages for their work on a DC Water project. On December 6, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents arrested the workers at their usual meeting spot as they waited for their ride to work. Two bystanders were also arrested.
Following their arrest, Corinthian Contractors continued to threaten the workforce with immigration enforcement. Finally, on December 31, 2012, Corinthian Contractors announced that it suddenly discovered that the I-9s of the entire workforce needed to be immediately “re-verified.” Corinthian took the opportunity during the “re-verification” process to fire almost half of the workers working on DC Water projects. The vast majority of those fired had signed a letter complaining of Corinthian’s failure to pay the legally required wages.
These workers have had their lives torn apart. Some have been deported. Others who remain have seen family members deported. All are still awaiting a determination of their status. And all of this turmoil to is due to the ruthlessness of a contractor who was offended that workers would try to hold him accountable to pay legally required wages.
On Tuesday, these workers will tell Corinthian Contractors that they cannot be intimidated out of their rights and will request the public and public officials to join them in demanding justice for Corinthian’s workers!
The protest is scheduled to take place at 11:00 a.m. on Tuesday at 3126 S. Abingdon Street.
In 2010, Corinthian Contractors completed work on a $1.5 million contract for the Arlington County Department of Environmental Services, according to its website. The company has not responded to a call seeking comment.
Modeled after the federal DREAM Act, Lopez’s bill (HB 1934) would provide in-state tuition at public Virginia universities for undocumented students who graduated from a Virginia high school or GED program, provided they attest to filing an application to become a permanent U.S. resident. The bill would also requires that the student and/or a parent has filed Virginia income tax returns for at least three years.
“A number of talented immigrant students who grow up here and graduate from Virginia high schools are undocumented — through no fault of their own,” Lopez said. “At best, they may be able to take our significant investment in their K-12 education to another state. At worst, they may decide to drop out of high school because college is not a realistic goal.”
“Virginia should be joining states such as Texas, Kansas, Illinois, Utah, Nebraska, New York, Washington, and Oklahoma in passing the DREAM Act and opening this narrow window of opportunity for students,” he continued. “These States understand that encouraging college access and opportunities reduces high school dropout rates and saves long term costs and public benefits spending for the community.”
Lopez introduced the legislation on Wednesday after vowing last year to introduce the bill “every year until it becomes the law of the Commonwealth.”
“I am encouraged by the prospects for HB 1934 this year,” Lopez told ARLnow.com. “More importantly, I remain strongly committed to seeing that undocumented children are given the opportunity to continue their education.”
HB 1934 is now awaiting a vote in the House of Delegates Education committee.
Seven ceremonies, from Aug. 18 to Sept. 15, will be held at Kenmore Middle School (200 S. Carlin Springs Road). One will be held on Aug. 31 will be held at George Mason University’s campus in Virginia Square. In all, about 3,100 new citizens from Virginia and the District of Columbia are expected to participate in the ceremonies, we’re told.
U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services had been holding smaller ceremonies at its field office in Fairfax but, according to spokesman Daniel Cosgrove, the agency has since decided to hold larger, less frequent ceremonies and thus selected the venues in Arlington, which can accommodate the larger events. The ceremony tomorrow at Kenmore is expected to include 400 immigrants, along with several hundred friends and family members.
Cosgrove said the events are not the “special ceremonies” which attract TV cameras and reporters on days like the Fourth of July, but they’re still open to the public.
“It’s always good to get out into the community, show people what we do and give them a chance to see this process,” he said. “It gives people an appreciation for just what a special country this is.”
Also present at the ceremonies will be several dozen volunteers from the League of Women Voters (LWV) of Arlington, who will be conducting non-partisan, on-site voter registration drives.
The voter registration effort will “make sure that all new citizens will be able to exercise their franchise,” said local LWV Voter Service co-chair Kristin Goss, who added that the League as been trying for more than a year to bring the naturalization ceremonies to Arlington.
Called “Pathway to Citizenship,” the event is intended to “assist 8th District residents navigating the federal government’s immigration and naturalization system.”
D.C United coach and former soccer star Jaime Moreno will be the keynote speaker at the event, which is also expected to be attended by Moran, Arlington County Board member Walter Tejada, and representatives from U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services.
The event is being held on Tuesday, July 31, at 6:30 p.m., at Gunston Middle School (2700 S. Lang Street).
There are more than 190,000 foreign-born residents living in Virginia’s 8th District, including some 110,000 who are not U.S. citizens, according to 2010 American Community Survey data. As of the 2000 census, there were more than 50,000 foreign-born residents in Arlington alone.
Newly-elected delegate Alfonso Lopez (D) has introduced a bill that would provide prenatal care for recent legal immigrants.
Low-income women in their first five years of lawful residence in the United States are eligible for a number of pregnancy services under Virginia’s Medicaid system, including payment of labor and delivery costs and costs associated with the child once he or she is born. Prenatal costs, however, are not covered. Del. Lopez’s bill would change that.
“Prenatal care can reduce maternal deaths, miscarriages, birth defects, low birth weights, and other preventable problems,” Lopez said in a statement. “Women who receive no prenatal care are three and a half times more likely to have a low birth weight baby and nearly three times as likely to give birth prematurely as other pregnant women.”
“For every dollar we spend on prenatal care, it is estimated that we will get back 150% of the funding due to reduced neonatal costs,” Lopez noted. “Providing this coverage is both the right thing to do and the fiscally responsible thing to do. I encourage my colleagues in the House of Delegates to join me in supporting this legislation.”
Similar legislation has been introduced by Richmond-area delegate John O’Bannon (R) and Sen Adam Ebbin (D).
In a tree-lined corner of Crystal City, Adel Ishak operates a small seasonal food stand, offering sandwiches, salads and smoothies to the masses of local office workers, apartment dwellers and Mt. Vernon Trail users.
If you’ve ever met Ishak, you probably know him as a hard-working guy who greets customers with an easy smile. What you probably don’t know about the guy serving you snacks and sodas is that not too long ago he was a prominent attorney in Egypt, with a large office and business before the Egyptian Supreme Court.
Ishak moved his wife and twin daughters to the United States five years ago, he says, after they started fearing for their safety. Being a Christian in Egypt, as they were, had become too dangerous, says Ishak.
“Over there, anybody can hurt you at any time,” he said.
In the U.S., Ishak has traded his large office for safety and a much different career path. When he’s not running the concession stand (in the Crystal City Water Park, across from 1750 Crystal Drive) Ishak is working as a part-time salesman for a JCPenney store in Fairfax. He could be doing more, Ishak says, but his poor English limits his job opportunities. In the coming months or years, he’s hoping to remedy that.
“I hope to study a lot,” he said.
Ishak has been gradually adding new and higher-quality items to the menu at the concession stand. Although the stand isn’t making him rich, he says business is “good” and getting better.
“I don’t worry about money, because when I work hard, money comes,” he said.
For Ishak, business is personal. The recipes for many of the menu items, like the smoothies and the fattoush salad, are customized by Ishak to meet his own personal standards. For instance, the mango smoothie contains real mango pieces, as opposed to flavored syrup. (“It’s expensive but it’s good,” he says.)
Plus, Ishak makes a point to provide personalized service. He’ll memorize what regular customers usually order, and will offer to let customers pay him back if they left their money at home.
From the Associated Press to the New York Times to Iran’s Press TV, Wednesday night’s public forum on the Secure Communities immigration enforcement program, held at George Mason University’s Founders Hall in Virginia Square, generated plenty of headlines.
The forum was organized as a listening session by a volunteer task force charged with recommending changes to Secure Communities, which Arlington tried and failed to opt out of last year.
After a raucous hour of impassioned speeches, about 150 pro-immigrant demonstrators marched and chanted their way out of the building, declaring the forum an “absolute sham” and demanding that the task force resign. The walkout — and many of the speeches and chants that preceded it — was choreographed by the group CASA de Maryland, which has been speaking out against Secure Communities since its inception.
Armed with signs and slogans, group members helped to pack the auditorium at GMU to its 300 person capacity. Numerous speakers — including ministers, monks, attorneys, activists and County Board member Walter Tejada — told of Secure Communities’ alleged impacts, from the deportation of teenagers to the threatened deportation of accident victims. While it’s supposed to help track down undocumented perpetrators of serious crimes, Secure Communities is not working as the Obama Administration intended, immigrant advocates argued.
The demonstrators’ pivotal moment came when two undocumented mothers, facing deportation proceedings, confronted Marc Rapp, who had been inconspicuously sitting in the audience, observing the proceedings. Rapp, the Department of Homeland Security official in charge of overseeing the Secure Communities program, was told through an interpreter that one of the women, Maria Bolanos, was picked up after she called police during a fight with her domestic partner. She decried Secure Communities and asked to be reunited with her children, as Rapp listened quietly.
Shortly thereafter the CASA protesters filed out of the room, shouting “end it, don’t mend it.” After a noisy demonstration outside the building, they marched down Fairfax Drive and into nearby St. Charles Borromeo Catholic Church.
Back inside at GMU, the discussion continued. Several people spoke in favor of Secure Communities. With the protesters out of the building, there were fewer hisses and boos as they spoke of the need to make sure the country’s laws are followed.
“If you’re going to be an illegal immigrant in this country, the least you can do is not do crime and not get arrested,” said Columbia Pike resident John Antonelli. Other speakers suggested the 9/11 terror attacks could have been prevented by stricter immigration enforcement.
Ofelia Calderon, an immigration attorney who works in Virginia Square, “thanked” members of the task force for the extra business she’s been getting because of Secure Communities.