Posted by on October 02, 2014 in Blog

By Eddie Bejarano
Fall Intern, 2014

“Since I came here in the 1960s, Roanoke has gone from being a sleepy, segregated town to being a city of extraordinary diversity. Today we proudly celebrate having more than 104 different nationalities,” reflected David Bowers, the Mayor of Roanoke, in a Washington Post article in March.

The change that Mayor Bowers witnessed in Roanoke is a process that is transpiring all across the United States. In regard to the Arab American community, the number of Virginians who claim an Arab ancestry more than doubled since the Census first measured ethnic origins in 1980 and is among the fastest growing Arab populations in the country. With a growing immigrant population, it is important to see where candidates in Virginia stand on the critical issue of immigration, which has been at the forefront of the national conversation.

Ed Gillespie, the Republican candidate challenging incumbent Senator Mark Warner, initially supported S.744, which would provide undocumented immigrants with a pathway to citizenship  and bolster border security, but his campaign website says, “I do not support amnesty, and oppose granting citizenship to them, which would be unfair to those who have come here legally and played by the rules.” On the other hand, Senator Warner was one of sixty eight senators who voted in favor of the S.744, thereby reinforcing his support for comprehensive immigration reform.

Barbara Comstock, the Republican candidate in Virginia’s 10th congressional district, made a startling comparison between Fed-Ex’s tracking ability and monitoring immigrants at a debate on September 23, 2014. Comstock stated, “Fed-Ex can track packages coming in here all of the time, we can track people who are coming into the country and we can do that right.” Her opponent, Democratic candidate John Foust believes that Comstock “does not believe in comprehensive immigration reform,” arguing that he would support comprehensive reform.

Lastly, David Brat, the tea-party candidate who unexpectedly defeated former Majority Leader Rep. Eric Cantor in Virginia’s 7th congressional district, stated that policies such as the DREAM act “sounded nice” but epitomized “poor policy.” Jack Trammell, Brat’s Democratic opponent, argues that immigration policy should be evaluated according to a cost-benefit analysis, specifically considering the impact on communities.

The Arab American community has been impacted by increased and heavy-handed immigration enforcement policies over the last 10 years, often in ways that have been at odds with the American values of equal protection and individual rights. This is why the issue remains important nationally. In Virginia, politicians have taken note of the Arab American community’s significance.

 “Our Lebanese-American population is such a strong part of America,” said Virginia Senator Tim Kaine during a Senate Foreign Relations Subcommittee hearing in February after a trip to Lebanon. Senator Kaine’s comment epitomizes the importance of the United States’ growing immigrant population.

With Election Day nearing, Arab American citizens in Virginia must be informed about the positions that candidates are taking on this vital issue and should play an active role in the ongoing national debate.  Immigration policy is an issue that will certainly impact our nation, but it will also alter the communities and neighborhoods that we live in.

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