Latinos Launch Economic Boycott: Resolution Leads Many to Shop Outside County
By Pamela Constable
By Pamela Constable
Washington Post Staff Writer
Maria Rivera, a hotel maid from Woodbridge, drove her two daughters to Lorton last weekend to buy school supplies. Juan Padilla, who owns a tropical-themed restaurant in Manassas, purchased all his cooking ingredients yesterday in Fairfax County.
On the first day of a one-week boycott called by immigrant groups in Prince William County, both of these county residents said they were shopping elsewhere to send a message that Latino immigrants are an important, unified economic force and can't be intimidated.
"They used us Hispanics to build this county, and now they are trying to kick us out. It's not fair," fumed Padilla, 28, a legal immigrant from El Salvador. On the window of his restaurant, La Laguna, was a large green poster that read, "We Are A Pro-Immigrant Business. Rescind the Prince William County Anti-Immigrant Resolution."
The boycott is a protest against a resolution, passed unanimously by the Board of County Supervisors in July, to deny many public services to illegal immigrants and empower police and other officials to question immigrants about their legal status and in some cases turn them over to federal immigration authorities.
County officials are studying how to implement the resolution, the result of widespread concern among longtime residents who think that the rapid influx of Latino immigrants, including many who are illegal, has increased crime and blight in the area and created a heavy burden on public services.
Several activists who support the resolution said that the boycott is bound to fail and that its only effect would be to pressure Latino business owners into conformity with a radical agenda by some groups to push the rights of illegal immigrants.
"They don't have a prayer of reversing this resolution, which has the support of 80 percent of county residents," said Greg Letiecq, an activist who heads Help Save Manassas. "This is an attempt to bully immigrant businesses."
Board Chairman Corey A. Stewart (R-At Large) also said the boycott would have little impact.
"I think it's going to have no effect whatsoever," he said. "It just strengthens our resolve and reaffirms that we're doing the right thing," he said. "And it confirms that illegal immigrants and their support groups have no respect for our community or the rule of law. It's just going to inflame people and make people that much more upset with illegal immigration."
The boycott has both galvanized and divided the county's large Latino population, which has tripled in the past decade and is now estimated at 30,000. One group, Mexicans Without Borders, hopes economic pressure will stop the measure. Another, headed by several Latino businessmen, opposes the boycott and seeks peaceful negotiations with county leaders.
There was no way to determine yesterday how many immigrants had observed the opening day of the boycott, which targeted all non-immigrant-owned businesses, including such chains as Wal-Mart, McDonald's and Giant supermarket as well as gas stations and convenience stores.
Boycott organizers said they had placed more than 350 of the green posters in businesses throughout the county, signifying that the store managers or owners are sympathetic -- or at least do not want to lose their immigrant customers.
A demonstration at Potomac Mills shopping center drew fewer than 100 people, who stood under a broiling afternoon sun yesterday and held aloft placards calling for immigrant rights. Some passing drivers honked in support; others swore or made insulting gestures.
In interviews in Manassas and Woodbridge, several dozen Latinos said they supported the boycott, and some were indignant about the way they feel immigrants have been treated in the county. Only two or three said they did not know about the boycott.
"I am only buying in Hispanic stores this week. I am a resident now, but I am still an immigrant, and it is not good what they are trying to do," said Abel Santiago, 28, a Mexican restaurant worker who complained that he had been stopped and asked for identification recently. "We feel so much hate and resentment now. But we should have our rights, too."
Rivera, the hotel worker who attended the demonstration at Potomac Mills, said she was also a legal resident but was angry at the proposals aimed at driving out illegal immigrants. She said she decided to participate after hearing about the boycott through her church.
"They don't want our children in the schools. They don't want people renting to immigrants. They want to ask for families' ID cards in parks. This is wrong, and we do not accept it," she said.