- The Washington Times - Friday, September 29, 2000

Growth issues in the Washington region can be handled two ways: from a point of resolve or a posture of fear. These two political philosophies are being played out by two organizations and their Web sites here in the District.
The first group is called the Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR). Its Web site can be found at www.fairus.org. The other is a group called Endgridlock.org, made up of a consortium of private citizens and business groups (www.endgridlock.org).
FAIR, a national group founded in 1978, comes with a support base of distinguished members and advisers, including Colorado's former governor, Richard Lamm, who is the author of "The Immigration Time Bomb" and "The Angry West." He is chairman of FAIR's board of advisers.
I learned about FAIR the other night while watching the Summer Olympics. In the midst of this celebration of international cooperation and global unity, was a commercial from FAIR, its message centered on how massive immigration has caused the traffic and growth problems we see in Virginia's Loudoun County.
This county, about 25 miles west of the District, has experienced phenomenal growth of nearly 100 percent in less than 10 years. It has been a hot spot for debate among property owners, developers, commuters and preservationists in the past few years.
I logged onto FAIR's Web site to see what policies the group espouses to help with development in our region. I was surprised to find that, to FAIR, it is not the economy, but the people, stupid.
The people coming into our region are causing the sprawl-and-crawl problems. Further, the group encourages Loudoun residents to, "Contact your congressional representatives and senators and tell them that you are concerned about the country's immigration policies. Tell them that you oppose mass immigration, and that mass immigration is the primary source of population pressures that are fueling urban sprawl where you live."
My brow furrowed when I read this, as most of what people keep telling me is we don't have enough roads, and development took a horribly wrong turn a few years back to keep up with the economic (ergo, population) growth.
Now to be fair to FAIR, I have to admit that according to the Census Bureau, the non-Hispanic white population in the United States is projected to increase from about 189 million in 1990 to 202 million by 2010. In addition, the bureau also projects that the population of Asians and Pacific Islanders will increase at the fastest rate from about 7 million to more than 14.4 million during the same period. Overall, immigration is expected to continue to contribute to about one-quarter, if not more, of the growth in U.S. households.
But being the proverbial optimist, I don't look upon these projections as a problem but an opportunity.
A study this year by the National Association of Realtors shows that immigrants buy homes at a quicker rate than U.S.-born minorities. But while immigrants are relatively undaunted by the down payment required for a home purchase, they are far more likely than native-born Americans to be uninformed about the home-buying process.
And according to a Fannie Mae survey, immigrants who rent are nearly three times as likely as all adult renters to consider home buying their No. 1 priority.
FAIR also uses fear as a reason to turn back the tide on immigrants, saying they may bring disease, crime and poverty with them. Nevertheless, (since we're throwing a bunch of reports around) another report by the Joint Center for Housing Studies at Harvard University found that 35 percent of the 2 million foreign-born households that have immigrated to the United States since 1990 now live in the suburbs of large metropolitan areas.
Immigrants are taking the writing engraved on the pedestal below the great lady in New York Harbor at face value: "Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, … ." FAIR would have taken that one sentence, footnoted it and added: "However, the United States will set legal immigration at the lowest feasible levels consistent with the demographic, economic, social and environmental realities of the present." (Which is paraphrased from the group's on-line principles.)
And what's feasible? Well, last year, about 1 million immigrants came into the United States. FAIR wants that number to be around 300,000 and has lobbied for a moratorium to be placed on any immigration until immigration reforms are in place.
What's so irritating to me about this group is it has found a hook to get people to buy into its isolationist pablum.
Washingtonians may not be upset at the immigrants joining our ranks, but they sure don't like gridlock; therefore, let's blame the gridlock on the immigrants, throw out the illegal ones (along with their families) and limit how many more can come to our country.
Now, Endgridlock.org takes a little bit of a different approach. "Why do we have so much traffic congestion?" it asks on its site.
"In part, we are victims of our own success. A strong economy and growing population have stressed our existing transportation network to the breaking point. But that is only part of the story. The growth in this area was forecast back as early as the 1950s and 1960s, and an extensive network of mass transit, roads and bridges was planned to accommodate that growth.
"While much of the planned transit system was built, and we now have a world-class 103-mile Metro system to show for it, many new suburban connector roads and additional bridges over the Potomac were not built. Without these facilities, the transportation system simply does not have the suburb-to-suburb links the region needs."
This group's common-sense writings seem a bit more balanced and levelheaded. When it comes to solving our growth problems, finding a scapegoat may be expedient, but it's not in the best interest of our country or our communities. Let's stick to the issues and find points of agreement and unity.
Together, there's nothing we can't do.
M. Anthony Carr has written about real estate issues for 11 years. Direct your comments to 8411 Arlington Blvd., Fairfax, Va. 22031; or send e-mail to [email protected]

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