Virginia Town Council Unseated Over Immigrant Center Concerns

A Town Council election in Herndon, Virginia may have signaled the beginnings of a voter backlash against incumbent politicians who cater to illegal immigrants and their supporters. At issue as a city day-labor center, opened at taxpayer expense in a vacant police station, designed to eliminate the congregation of illegal immigrant day-laborers at a Herndon 7-11.

The Washington Post reports on the results of todays election in the Washington area suburb.

Herndon voters yesterday unseated the mayor and Town Council members who supported a bitterly debated day-labor center for immigrant workers in a contest that emerged as a mini-referendum on the turbulent national issue of illegal immigration.

Residents replaced the incumbents with a group of challengers who immediately called for significant changes at the center. Some want to bar public funds from being spent on the facility or restrict it to workers residing in the country legally. Others want it moved to an industrial site away from the residential neighborhood where it is located.

The day-labor center thrust the western Fairfax County town into the national spotlight as the issue of illegal immigration became emotional. Even though fewer than 3,000 people voted yesterday, advocates on both sides of the issue looked at the election as a test case of public sentiment. Outside groups such as the Minutemen Project, which favors sharp curbs on illegal immigration, intervened in the town debate. Judicial Watch, a conservative legal group, is suing the town over establishment of the center.

Steve J. DeBenedittis, 38, a health club operator and political newcomer, defeated Mayor Michael L. O’Reilly with 52 percent of the vote. Council members Carol A. Bruce and Steven D. Mitchell, who voted for the center, were turned out of office. Jorge Rochac, a Salvadoran businessman who supported the center and was seeking to become the town’s first Hispanic council member, was also defeated. About one in four town residents is Hispanic.

In addition to being one quarter Hispanic, Herndon is one of the DC-area suburbs that is usually solidly Democratic; though that didn’t seem to matter much in this case. Perhaps, when the issue is made local and personal, Republicans will find that focusing on the economic costs of illegal immigration can be a winning strategy to pickup cross-over votes.

A fair trade
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