By Arlo Wagner
Months after Prince William County began one of the country's strongest crackdowns on illegal immigrants, some officials and residents say illegals and other residents appear to be leaving.
Dave Whitlow, town manager of Dumfries, said officials started noticing the change a few months ago when they canvassed communities popular among Hispanic families and found roughly 165 residences vacant among 1,600 houses and townhouses.
"We are having many more leaving," Mr. Whitlow said. "It's been just the last few months."
In July, the Board of County Supervisors unanimously agreed to have the federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency train six police officers and one resident for an Alien Crime Unit.
The detail began enforcement March 1 and is assisting officers, who have a suspect in a crime — including traffic offenses — and find probable cause that he or she is in the country illegally. Before then, officers were not authorized to make arrests for illegal immigration.
Board Chairman Corey A. Stewart said this week he was not surprised about signs that illegal immigrants were leaving.
"There's no question the police have had the effect," said Mr. Stewart, a Republican planning to run for lieutenant governor. "The message that we are sending is: 'If you are an illegal alien, you are not welcome in Prince William County.' Time sure will show illegal aliens are leaving the county."
Jason D. Grant, spokesman for the Prince William's Department of Economic Development, said the county has not seen signs of an economic downtown as a result of the crackdown, but officials, merchants and residents say changes are obvious.
Officials in Dumfries — a town of roughly 5,000 residents on the southern tip of Prince William — also said about 10 percent of housing units are for sale or in foreclosure.
"I think that's high," said Mr. Whitlow, adding most of the units are in communities of townhouses where Hispanics live. "Tax records here have many Hispanic surnames as home buyers. It's been a long time since we've seen an obvious vacancy rate like that."
Last week, county public schools spokesman Ken Blackstone told The Washington Times a recent check of the system's ESOL (English Speakers of Other Languages) program shows roughly 600 fewer students than on Sept. 30.
But he cautioned people about trying to "connect the dots" between the decrease in students and illegal immigrants leaving the county.
He said, for example, the ESOL program serves students who speak many different languages.
County police Chief Charlie T. Deane said Prince Williams was "at the forefront in this nation of enforcement ...of immigration issues."
He also said the department continues to receive complaints about the behavior of illegal immigrants and others who hang around day-labor sites waiting for work.
However, a day-laborer outside a 7-Eleven store in Woodbridge said Tuesday that fewer workers have been coming to sites since the resolution was passed.
"I don't like to stay way out here, but when you have no choice, you have to do it," said the 23-year-old man, who declined to give his name.
Sgt. Kim Chinn, a police spokeswoman, was unable to give the number of service calls the Alien Crime Unit has made in the two weeks since enforcement began. She said the department is still organizing and preparing the reports.
La Todos Supermarket, in Woodbridge, began feeling the impact last summer, said owner Carlos Castro, who established the business 18 years ago in the 14400 block of Jefferson Davis Highway.
"It has diminished our customers," he said. "We have never had a downturn like this time around."
Mr. Castro said sales have decreased mostly in such non-essential goods as tools, hardware and kitchenware. However, he said sales of milk and other foods have remained about the same.
Mexicans Without Borders, among the groups that protested the resolution, agreed today that residents are leaving.
"The evidence is that since the resolution was passed, Latino residents are being driven out," spokeswoman Nancy Lydall said. "More devastating is the effect on the economy. In my neighborhood (Dale City), eight or nine houses are vacant. Ninety percent of the homes are Latino."
Among the concerns of Hispanic residents is that police will target them for driving violations and other crimes.
Chief Deane said the new enforcement is not aimed at Hispanics.
"We prohibit racial profiling," he said. "The primary core issue is to protect residents. We protect victims regardless of immigration."
There are no official numbers on illegal immigrants. But Hispanics are Prince William's largest minority group, accounting for 24.2 percent of the 346,790 residents.
Last year, about 250,000 illegal aliens were estimated to be living in Virginia, according to the Federation for American Immigration Reform.
Nationally, an estimated 12 million illegal immigrants are in the United States, and about 500,000 enter the country each year.