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Many Bedford residents may not have given it a thought, but that does not mean we do not have a problem sitting at our door that the longer we put off addressing the more difficult it will be to resolve.
The problem is illegal immigrants.
Unlike legal immigrants, those that are illegal do not abide by our laws regarding how to enter our country. They sneak across our border or overstay their visas if they have gotten one. In brief they have already broken our law. If we allow this to happen, what other laws can we ignore without punishment of the offenders? A society cannot exist as Robinson Crusoe did alone on his island, making his own choices as to what to do and not do since no one else would be affected. Only he would pay the price for a bad decision. In our society everyone is affected in some way.
Immigration has played an important role in American history. We continue to have the most open immigration policy anywhere in the world. We accept more legal immigrants as permanent residents than the rest of the world combined.
In the 1990s legal immigration by itself probably matched or exceeded the previous U.S. historical peak decade of 1901-1910 when 8.8 million legal immigrants were admitted. When adding the illegal aliens who also came here makes this decade without a doubt the period of greatest immigration in our history. Whereas immigrants that used to come here came from a variety of countries, in the past decade Hispanics, 14 percent of them, accounted for half the nation's population growth. In 2004 white non-Hispanics made up 67 percent of the American population but accounted for only 18 percent of the population growth from 2000-2004.
The part of this Hispanic increase that we are concerned with here concerns those who either sneak across our border or overstay valid visas. Hispanics are by far the largest group. Middle Easterners, e.g., number only about 115,000 people.
What does "illegal" mean?
It means "prohibited by law," our official rules. Our history of the value abiding by laws made it possible for us to become the greatest nation since ancient times. Those who flaunted a law were subject to punishment of some sort depending on the severity of the offense. Law and order made it possible for us to concentrate on other things.
Illegal aliens have undoubtedly always existed, but they were small in number. Today there are an estimated 12 million within our borders with The Immigration Nationalization Service (INS) estimating that 850,000 have arrived here each year since 2000. This was nearly double the previous INS estimate of about 55,000 in 1996 which was nearly one-third higher than the INS estimate for 1992. Just in the state of Virginia there are an estimated 250,000 to 300,000 in a report 2006 by the Pew Hispanic Center, a nonpartisan research organization supported by The Pew Charitable Trusts. The numbers are usually not precise because individuals can operate below the radar when census takers appear.
The problem will not go away without strong and effective measures on our own part. Even the Mexican government acknowledges that failing birth rates and increase economic development will not lead to a reduction for at least three decades. According to that government it will continue at between 3.5 and 5 million people per decade.
Because Roanoke is adjacent to the Bedford County line it is of prime importance when it comes to numbers since it is so easy and fast to go between these places. In Roanoke, Hispanic immigrants have begun to reach a critical mass. Hispanic leaders there put the number somewhere between 10,000 and 12,000 and as large as 16,000 in the entire Roanoke Valley.
Another indication is the fact that in the fall of 2006 the citywide class of English Language Learners are 7.4 percent of the city's school population, almost 10 times the number a decade ago. The bulk of these students are from Latin America. Bedford County already has three teachers for this purpose.
In California some classes have 50 percent non-English speakers. One teacher there reports, "They walk in and just start speaking Spanish; they don't even try to speak English."
Without action on our part, this number will only grow too with all the attendant problems of cost, et al. The Census Bureau shows a 33 percent increase of Hispanics in Bedford County between 2000 and 2006, 449 in the former to 598 by the latter. We are not immune to an increase ourselves with a similar problem lurking.
The Pew Hispanic Center in a 2006 report ranked Virginia 10th in the nation for states with illegal aliens. In 1990 almost half lived in California. By 2004 its share had dropped to about a quarter even though its illegal population had grown from 1.6 million to about 2.4 million.
In the interval illegals had spread across the nation. There was no accurate count of U.S. Hispanics until the 1970 census and the results then were dubious. Therefore it is difficult to tell an accurate story as to how the landslide began.