Wednesday, June 19, 2002

Fairfax Babylon

David Plotz of Slate paints an interesting portrait of my former home, Fairfax County, Virginia in today's New York Times. In the last 25 years or so it has transformed from a quiet set of sprawling suburban neighborhoods into a strip mall, office park, parking lot, apartment complexed metropolis all its own. Despite being able to maintain its status as one of the richest counties in the country (#2 as of the 2000 census), it has absorbed a huge number of working class immigrants, mostly from Africa, Latin America, and the Middle East, in the last decade.

And those immigrants are occasion for some not-so-subtle legislation, such as the proposed ban on paving over front lawns to provide homeowners with more parking spaces. As Plotz points out, the houses most likely to have their lawns paved over are those with more than the usual number of residents packed inside - i.e., extended families living together. Those kind of extended families are far more likely to be immigrant families. Hence the gut-level reaction among many Fairfax residents that a bunch of smelly immigrants are destroying our neighborhoods and property values. There was also a proposal in the Virginia legislature offered by Fairfax County state Senator Leslie Byrne (D) that would have forbidden people from sleeping in rooms other than their bedrooms - again a measure clearly targeted at crowded low-income households that often are the only housing immigrant families can afford. Judging by the popularity of such measures (Sen. Byrne's bill passed the Virginia state Senate but was later withdrawn after sparking a public outcry) I expect more anti-immigrant zoning restrictions in the years ahead.


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