By Joe Guzzardi
December 17, 2017
In the Commonwealth of Virginia’s Fairfax County, a recent court house drama played out that said a lot about immigration policy, all of it bad.
The three protagonists: 19-year-old illegal alien and sixth grade dropout Sandra Mendez Ortega, once a housekeeper, but now unemployed and pregnant with her second child; her former employers, the Copeland family, and an overly sympathetic jury.
While in the Copeland’s employ, Ortega stole three rings with an estimated $5,000 value, a crime she subsequently admitted to. A jury found Ortega guilty of felony grand larceny which carries a 20-year prison sentence and a $2,500 fine. Instead, the compassionate jury fined Ortega $60, but then chipped in and raised $80 for her, which the foreman personally delivered to her. Legal experts deemed it unprecedented that jurors would personally reimburse a fine to a convicted felon.
Excluded from the media version of Ortega’s story is the troubling fact that she, an illegal immigrant and felon, will soon give birth to an American citizen child. Unless Ortega is deported, unlikely, her child will anchor her to the United States. Young illegal immigrant mothers with infants are the least probable for removal.
For years, Americans and some in Congress have derided birthright citizenship. Congress has introduced various bills with the reasonable provision that citizenship cannot be conferred on a newborn unless at least one parent is a citizen or a legal permanent resident. Despite this logic, these bills are DOA. Consequently, foreign nationals like Ortega can illegally enter, commit crimes, and be rewarded with citizenship for their children. The Pew Research Center’s latest analysis found that in 2014, 275,000 illegal immigrants gave birth to anchor babies.
The Copelands, indignant when they heard the wrist-slap verdict, are afoul of the law, too. Accounts didn’t give details surrounding the circumstances of Ortega’s hiring, and perhaps the Copelands did exercise due diligence. But when a non-English speaking teenage applicant shows up at the door – Ortega used a translator in court – the first assumption should be that she’s an illegal immigrant and not legally authorized to work. A good opening interview question would be to ask how the candidate got to the U.S. In Ortega’s case, Fairfax County is a long way from the Southwest border, about 1,500 miles.
In Virginia, hiring illegal immigrants is a Class 1 misdemeanor for an employer or an employer’s agent. The commonly used defense illegal immigrant employers cite is that an agency referred the candidate, but legally, that excuse doesn’t cut it.
U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services can remove lingering doubts about immigration status though its E-Verify program, available to all employers.
As the jurors demonstrated, opinions about illegal immigrants vary widely. What’s certain, however, is that immigration has transformed Virginia, in general, and Fairfax County, specifically. The University of Virginia published an exhaustive study which showed that until 1970, only one in every 100 Virginians was foreign-born; by 2012, the ratio was one in nine. And according to a Fairfax community newspaper, by 2010 a child entering a county elementary school would likely join a classmate who did not speak English as his primary language, and whose parents or grandparents immigrated from distant lands, mostly from Latin America and Asia, but also as remote as India or Africa.
Americans have never voted on nation-changing immigration. The least they should get in exchange for the dramatic demographic shift is immigration laws with vigorous enforcement by federal, state and local authorities. Yet too frequently, as the Ortega case revealed, that modest goal is infuriatingly out of reach.