- The Washington Times - Sunday, April 1, 2007

A third residents group has formed in Northern Virginia to address concerns related to the influx of illegal aliens in the region.

Help Save Manassas has scheduled its first public meeting for tomorrow at 7:30 p.m. at Manassas City Council Chambers.

Greg Letiecq, an organizer who lives in Prince William County, just outside the Manassas limits, said the group was formed to give citizens a voice in the immigration debate.

“It makes a lot of sense to set something up here locally,” he said. “You have people from special-interest groups who don’t live here showing up and saying enforcement is racist … and the citizens are getting overlooked.”

Residents in Herndon and Loudoun County were the first to start such groups, and chapters are planned for other parts of the state.

The primary concerns of Manassas-area residents include overcrowding and illegal aliens’ using taxpayer-funded public services, Mr. Letiecq said.

“We’re not a bunch of nut jobs out there trying to do something bizarre,” he said.

The organization’s draft bylaws include a provision to remove members for inappropriate conduct, said Maureen Wood, head of a steering committee of residents temporarily governing the group.

“We don’t want to be antagonistic,” she said.

Regardless of a group’s intentions, the result of its actions often is discrimination, said Kent Willis, director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Virginia.

“Whether or not these policies flow from bias against Latinos, it is Latinos who are going to feel the brunt of it — and not just illegal Latinos but all Latinos,” Mr. Willis told The Washington Times last month. “The result of these policies is profiling at its worst.”

Mr. Letiecq said Help Save Manassas is a member-driven group. He invited citizens and legal residents of Manassas, Manassas Park and Prince William County to participate.

“When we go and speak as representatives of the community, we are representative of the community,” he said.

The group plans to elect officers, establish membership and approve bylaws at its first meeting.

Help Save Manassas is modeled after Help Save Herndon and Help Save Loudoun.

Aubrey Stokes co-founded Help Save Herndon in 2004 to oppose plans for a taxpayer-supported day-labor center in the western Fairfax County town.

“There were many like-minded people in Herndon who felt that was wrong,” he said. “We felt the Town Council was not listening to the wishes of its constituents.”

Despite the opening of the Herndon Official Workers Center in December 2005, Mr. Stokes said, he considers the grass-roots organization’s public-information campaign a success.

“We’re now seeing the results of people paying attention — actions taken by the current Town Council as a result of the public being more informed,” he said. Mr. Stokes cited the town’s recent partnership with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement to train local officers in immigration-enforcement procedures.

Help Save Loudoun was formed about a year ago with similar goals.

“We’re trying to get our public officials to take steps that they legally and logically can take to try to ameliorate the effects of illegal immigration locally,” said Help Save Loudoun founder Joe Budzinski. He cited overcrowding and the hiring of illegal aliens as major problems in Loudoun County.

The grass-roots movement has spread to organizations such as the Arizona-based Minutemen Civil Defense Corps, a group aimed at cracking down on illegal aliens.

The Minutemen’s Virginia chapter is following Help Save Herndon’s model of “planting little seeds all over the state,” chapter Director George Taplin said.

The chapter has plans to establish like-minded groups in Culpeper and Harrisonburg, Mr. Taplin said. Citizens in Alexandria, Fredericksburg and Springfield also have contacted him, he said.

The goal is to create forums for discussions — not to “strong-arm” people into doing things, Mr. Taplin said.

“Our focus is working with elected officials to find ways to mitigate the bad effects of illegal aliens in the community,” he said. “Having said that, if elected officials decide they don’t want to cooperate, we will do our best to get them fired from their jobs.”

The power of such grass-roots activism was evident in Herndon’s municipal elections in May, when voters ousted the mayor and two Town Council members who supported the taxpayer-funded worker center.

“While we did get the old council thrown out, the new council is not at our beck and call,” Mr. Taplin said. “The new council is doing things the way they want to do them.”

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