Tears On Opening Day In Condado Del Diablo
The beautiful game
This isn't about America's so-called pastime, major league baseball, which begins tonight with the Braves playing the Nats and Commander Codpiece McFlyboy throwing out the ceremonial first ball. No. This is about something smaller, more intimate, and in many ways, much more a game of the People. It's about futbol, soccer, and how anti-immigrant local legislation in Northern Virginia has destroyed the local leagues.
It's an infuriating story. I'm angered not just because I love to play this game, but because of the important role it plays in the community. I doubt you've heard about this before.
This essay begins in July, 2007. The Christian Science Monitor reported then that local communities, including Prince William County, Virginia, which has about 40,000 undocumented residents, had decided to enforce immigration laws, something formerly thought to be a federal function, because Congress couldn't pass an immigration bill:
In the past, cities that welcomed diversity and new immigrants made a point of refusing to let their police officers help federal agents identify people who might be in the US illegally. Others worried that their departments would be slapped with harassment or racial-profiling lawsuits if they became involved in enforcing US immigration laws.The Washington Times reported at the same time in July:
But when political leaders in Prince William County saw national reform legislation falter last month in the Senate, they approved their own immigration-reform resolution that, among other things, would give local police a shot at enforcement.
To that end, the Board of Supervisors voted unanimously on July 10 to allow county police officers the authority to check the citizenship status of anyone they've stopped or arrested whom they have "probable cause" to believe is in the US illegally. The county board has yet to define "probable cause," but board chairman Corey Stewart says it may be based on whether a person has a driver's license.
The county "has reached a boiling point," says Mr. Stewart. An influx of illegal immigrants over the past four years has led to overcrowded houses and schools, overstretched public services, and a rising problem with gangs, he says.
Board Chairman Corey A. Stewart, at-large Republican, commended his colleagues for "stepping up to the plate" and taking action on immigration enforcement when the federal government has failed to do so.There don't appear to be any recent news reports about the standards for probable cause.
"We're going to do what we can," he said prior to the vote, which came after nearly four hours of impassioned testimony from people for and against the tough policies. "We know this is a federal issue, but I think the citizens have a right to expect that their local government and the state government are going to do whatever they can to address the problem."
The resolution, introduced last month by Supervisor John T. Stirrup Jr., Gainesville Republican, was amended before the meeting yesterday to clarify the circumstances under which county staff — including police — should ask about immigration status.
The resolution calls for the police department to establish standards of probable cause and methods by which officers can determine lawful presence, then report back to the board within 60 days.
And now, let's pick up the story in March, 2008. The law is still on the books. The law is still being enforced. There has been no reported litigation to end local enforcement of this law. And the WaPO reports that the "crackdown on illegal immigration [has] quieted" Prince William County's soccer fields:
As Prince William proceeds with its crackdown on illegal immigrants, one result is a shake-up and shrinking of the area's entrenched Hispanic soccer leagues. The reason is simple, organizers say: Players and fans, among them many illegal immigrants, are so worried about being detained by authorities en route to or at games that they are avoiding local fields. Legal immigrants are also wary, for themselves or their illegal relatives, organizers say.And so ends an important feature of community life in Northern Virginia. Some teams are moving to other, safer counties, and some are not playing. The four main Latino leagues in Prince William County had 80 teams last season; there are fewer than 50 this year. The biggest and oldest league, the Liga de Manassas, is skipping the season entirely because it has fewer than half its teams playing. In other words, the legislation has destroyed the league, and it's destroyed the games.
"I have never felt as good as I felt in Manassas," said Hector Bardales, 26, a Sterling mechanic who plays in four of the region's leagues but most loved the crowds who cheered him on when he donned his Honduras de Manassas uniform. But he is in the country illegally, so Manassas is now no man's land, he said. "I would play in any county except Prince William."
Officials have said the policy is not meant to intimidate but to remove illegal immigrants, particularly those who commit crimes. The imperiled leagues draw little sympathy from backers of the county's enforcement program.
"I would hope that the soccer leagues didn't depend on illegal aliens to make them viable," said Greg Letiecq, president of Help Save Manassas, an anti-illegal-immigration group. "It just doesn't seem like a valid reason for overturning the rule-of-law resolution: because without the illegal aliens, the soccer clubs will all fall apart."
Games used to be played on weekends from April through October at various fields and they used to attract crowds who could hear bands play, eat ethnic food (pupusas, if you're Honduran), and let their kids play. Security guards curbed rowdiness and crews cleaned the fields after the games. Matches could be heard on Spanish-language radio. You can wave good by to all of that now. Adios.
To try to allay fears, league owners have hosted team meetings at which police have explained the county's policy, which took effect [at the start of March] and requires officers to check the immigration status of crime suspects who they think might be in the country illegally. There are to be no immigration checkpoints, racial profiling or sidelines raids, the teams were told. The meetings have had little impact, league owners said.That's no surprise that the talks haven't changed anything. With such obvious and outspoken animus against immigrants, only a fool can take the assurances at face value that there will be no raids. You have to be crazy to drive to the game. You have to be nuts to sit in the stands. "This is what they have nicknamed this county: the Devil's County. They call it Condado del Diablo." Because here, a game, in particular a lovely and fun game, futbol, can get you harassed, land you in jail, get you deported, and split up your family. It's just not worth the risk.
Would we see this kind of fear, this kind of jackbooted enforcement if our congresspersons would do their jobs and tend to the immigration issue? Would we see this kind of erosion in the community? Would we see this kind of pervading fear? Would this kind of "enforcement" be permitted? I doubt it. I'd like to think that our congresspersons were busy with other things, so they couldn't quite reach this issue, but to be frank, this is just another example of their fecklessness, their cowardice, and their inability to come to grips with important issues, their being neglectful and their letting our communities rot.
I'm too old to play effective defense any more. I get tired and winded. My agility has faded. I find myself more and more grabbing onto the shirts of offensive players, slowing them down however I can, evading the referees' eyes, pushing them away from the goal. This in itself is beautiful. It makes me feel ageless. If I didn't love the game, would I still be trying to do this?
I just cannot believe that our politics has found a way to destroy even these leagues, even this game. I shed a tear for the beautiful game that won't be played. And I'm so very sorry and sad that my companeros in Prince William County, to whom these games are so important and so much a passion, are having to stay home this Spring.