By Martin Bosworth
Today’s Washington Post looks at the net result of anti-illegal immigration measures passed in Virginia’s Prince William County last week–an exodus of Latinos (both legal and illegal) from the region:
Diaz, a supermarket checkout clerk, was one of nearly 400 people who waited for hours to comment on the bill during the marathon pre-vote session that stretched into Wednesday’s wee hours. “Even after they passed that July resolution, I had hope that [the supervisors] would change their minds,” said Diaz, 37, who has legal status but worries about relatives who do not. Now, she noted bitterly, “I’ll be selling at a loss. But I don’t care. I no longer have any affection for this place that treats us this way. I just want to get out.”
Beyond the ugliness and xenophobia that measures like this demonstrate, there’s a deeper problem here–one which the article hints at but never directly addresses. For the past seven years, the American economy has been largely propped up by the housing market, thanks to skyrocketing prices and massive overdevelopment of huge homes in the exurbs. In order to get these homes built, many homebuilders and developers either contracted or subcontracted out to illegal “day laborers” who would work hard, not ask questions, and (most importantly), accept far less money than a comparable American worker.
Not only that, many of these selfsame workers were encouraged to buy in to these new houses–many of which they helped build–using crappy subprime loans with little documentation and dangerous hidden clauses that are predominantly targeted at black and Hispanic borrowers. Now that the housing market is tanking, these owners and families are finding themselves trapped in homes they can’t afford, with no jobs that can cover the mortgage as their adjustable rates spike.
Doug Mataconis claims that the Prince William ordnance can’t be responsible for the housing downturn, since the downturn began at least a year before. In this, he’s right–ordnances like this are a response to the problem, not the cause of it. When the market was flying high and people could buy $500,000-plus McMansions on credit or use their equity for expensive home remodeling, no one cared who did the labor as long as it got done. Now that the market is in the crapper and home values are dropping (not to mention continuing increases in foreclosures), angry taxpayers are looking for a convenient target to rage against, and illegals have always been a fantastic punching bag for right-wing frustrations. With legions of underemployed or unemployed “day laborers” clotting up exurban Virginian towns like Herndon and Sterling, they make easy targets, to say the least.
This is always what happens when a country’s economy is on a down cycle–rather than confront the root problems with the system, the response is to lash out at whatever convenient stalking horse is put in front of you. In 1930′s Germany, it was Jews. A few years ago, it was gays. This year, it’s illegal immigrants. The end result is always the same–people fleeing a land they called home because their services are no longer required, and their presence is no longer desired.
Raising Kaine has covered the PWC ordnance in great depth, and I recommend reading their coverage for a closer look at the issue.
ADDENDUM: I also recommend this post from ur-housing blogger Keith of Housing Panic, who lays out the chain of events linking illegal immigration and the housing bubble in blunt fashion.