Virginia immigration law yields mixed results and hard feelings

Long before Arizona passed a get-tough immigration law, Prince William County, Virginia, passed one of its own. That law, on the books for several years, has been the subject of a study and of a documentary film (trailer after the jump).

The New York Times today published a synopsis of the study, noting that while the law seems to have reduced the number of illegal immigrants in the county it may not have had much effect on crime.

A study of an Arizona-style immigration policy in Prince William County, Va., has found that it reduced the number of illegal immigrants in the county, but that its effect on violent crime was inconclusive.

The study was conducted by the University of Virginia and the Police Executive Research Forum, a nonprofit group focused on improving police tactics, at the request of the county. It looked at data from 2007, when the policy was proposed, through 2009.

Prince William County began enforcing the tough immigration law, similar to one that was passed later in Arizona and is now facing legal challenges, in 2008. The county’s law required police officers to check the immigration status of anyone they had probable cause to believe was in the country illegally.

The county executive, Corey Stewart, pushed the policy in a campaign that polarized residents. Hispanic groups criticized the policy as inflammatory.

The county’s police department, which paid for the study, expressed concern that the law would be expensive to carry out and that it would lead to accusations of racial profiling, and eight weeks later, it was suspended. It was later revised to apply only to those who had been arrested.

The small drop in crime since passage of the law may be attributed to the fact that people in the country without documentation may no longer feel safe in reporting crimes to the police, the study’s author told the Times.

The film itself makes the case that the new law may be hurting businesses which formerly relied in part on illegal immigrants for business, and may have led to an increase in foreclosures and a drop in property values.

“9500 Liberty makes it clear that when we as a nation of immigrants debate the immigration issue we are defining our very identity as Americans,” said best-selling author John Grisham in a quote posted on the film’s website.

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Scot Kersgaard has been managing editor of a political newspaper, editor and co-owner of a ski town newspaper, executive editor of eight high-tech magazines (where he worked with current Apple CEO Tim Cook), deputy press secretary to a U.S. Senator, and an outdoors columnist at the Rocky Mountain News. He has an English degree from the University of Washington. He was awarded a fellowship to study internet journalism at the University of Maryland's Knight Center for Specialized Journalism. He was student body president in college. He spends his free time hiking and skiing.

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