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9500 Liberty

Response to University of Virginia report on Immigration Controversy in Prince William County

I am quoted in this article in the New York Times by Sabrina Tavernise (full text below) that begins, “an Arizona-style immigration policy in Prince William County, Va., has found that it reduced the number of illegal immigrants in the county.”   The reporting here is a step in the right direction, with the repeal of the “Probable Cause” mandate fully acknowledged and accurately described.  At the heart of the article are statements made by one of the main subjects of 9500 Liberty, Chairman Corey Stewart, in response to a study conducted by the University of Virginia released on Tuesday.

In the context of Arizona’s S.B. 1070, an examination of what happened in Prince William County, VA must take into account the often ignored and sometimes deliberately denied fact that Prince William County’s “Probable Cause” Mandate was repealed, over Chairman Stewart’s objection, after only eight weeks of implementation.  Once this can be established, the next question is “Why was it repealed so quickly?”

With the 2011 election around the corner, Chairman Stewart appears to be seeking the kind of attention Jan Brewer has received thanks to S.B. 1070’s very similar “Reasonable Suspicion” provision.  But in fact, Stewart is a more appropriate spokesperson for the Obama Administration’s Secure Communities program than for S.B. 1070.

Secure Communities requires immigration status checks in the jails.

The policy that remains in Prince William County after the repeal of the “Probable Cause” mandate ALSO requires status checks after custodial arrest.  Both policies focus on people who have been arrested and taken into custody for an underlying crime.  S.B. 1070, if it were to survive in court, would require immigration status checks based on a subjective standard of suspicion — precisely the approach that Prince William County tried and then quickly abandoned.

If Prince William County is a “model” of any kind, it’s a model of a costly and dysfunctional way to end up with the preferred approach of the Obama Administration.  Beyond that, we’re discussing the impact of the year-long controversy in Prince William County much more so than our short-lived S.B. 1070 precursor.

First, here is how you can download the official University of Virginia report, and the slide show presentation which summarizes it:

And here is where you can read the political spin:

My notes from first read of UVA report:

  • The report mentions but does not emphasize the fact that type of crime in which we saw the most significant drop (aggravated assault) was also the category targeted by Chief Deane’s Robbery Unit, which went into effect in 2006 before the immigration controversy was initiated.
  • The report cites data that suggests that some Hispanics did leave as a result of the controversy, and that many of those who left lacked legal status.  Thus, the most conclusive information in the report is that the controversy succeeded in leveling off the growth of the Hispanic population.  But is reversing or delaying demographic shift more important than other resource needs, and more important than other concerns that impact the lives of county residents?  The initial estimate of the program was over $14,000,000.  I wonder how the county’s taxpayers would feel if the policy were discussed in terms of its cost, rather than demographics.
  • Figure 8-3. Part I Violent Crimes in PWC, 2003-2009 (Weekly), page 92 (or 115) has new information I found interesting.  Another example of things reverted back to normal after April 2008 repeal. Aggravated assault reporting falls when the controversy begins in July 0f ‘07, and then sees a correction after the controversy dies down, when “Probable Cause” is repealed in April of 2008.  The graphic on the next page shows a similar trend.


  • The statistics on reported aggravated assault victims and offenders show that during and after the controversy, Hispanic offenders saw no change, while Hispanic victims went down.  This supports the theory that reporting goes down during such controversies; not actual crimes.  And, it subverts the implicit assumption that a drop in this category represents less Hispanics, or less illegal-immigrants committing aggravated assault.  (If you still have the page number can you tell me?)
  • The report acknowledges that we can’t know for sure if a decrease in aggravated assault reporting means Hispanics were less often victims, less often perpetrators, or less often reporting when they are victims.  But, proponents of SB 1070 (and/or of the short-lived PWC policy as a surrogate for SB 1070) will rely on the perception that Hispanics or illegal immigrants are perpetrators and white people are victims of crime.  My impression is that this perception is easily triggered and exploited.  Meanwhile, research and detailed analysis that subverts this perception is time-consuming, complicated, and ultimately inconclusive.  This is a more accurate predictor of which interpretation will take hold than their relative accuracy.
  • For more information, see my previous post about “Immigration and Crime Statistics”
  • And finally, we released this YouTube video on the interactive version of 9500 Liberty during the height of the confusion about the repeal of the “Probable Cause” mandate:

Full text of NY Times article by Sabrina Tavernise:

Tough Law Reduced Immigrants, Study Shows
Published: November 17, 2010

WASHINGTON — 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.

While the county’s foreign-born population more than doubled in the past decade, according to the Migration Policy Institute, a rise largely attributable to the housing boom in northern Virginia, the report found that there were 3,000 to 6,000 fewer illegal immigrants in the county in 2009, compared with 2006.

“We are convinced that it’s a clear result of the policy,” said Thomas M. Guterbock, a professor of sociology and one of the authors of the study.

It is not entirely clear whether reducing the illegal population was one of the policy’s objectives. Mr. Stewart said in an interview last week that it was a desirable goal, but that the earlier, stricter policy had not been workable.

“I believe that if someone is here illegally, they should be deported,” he said. “But from a more practical perspective, we should be focusing on those illegal immigrants who are committing crimes.”

Illegal immigrants represent just 6 percent of the perpetrators of all serious crimes in the county, a small enough slice that measuring the effects of the policy on crime has been tricky.

Christopher Koper, director of research at the research forum and one of the authors of the study, said a significant finding was the sharp drop in aggravated assaults immediately after the announcement of the policy in 2007. But the drop might have been a fall-off in frightened immigrants reporting crimes, he said.

“We have no indication that the enforcement of the policy led to a reduction in crime,” Mr. Koper said. “Crime trends have been steady.”

Eric Byler, a documentary film maker whose film, “9500 Liberty,” captured the county’s struggle with the law, noted that the stricter policy was in place only in March and April of 2008 and argued that it was too short-lived to have had much impact. The controversy it caused had perhaps the most serious effect, he said.

“If anything this is the measure of the controversy’s impact, not a measure of the policy’s impact,” he said.

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