Festival Canceled, Activists Blamed

Nick Miroff, Washington Post, September 12, 2007

While other Northern Virginia locales have moved aggressively against illegal immigrants in recent months, the small city of Manassas Park has cut a different course. Its lawmakers have resisted pressure to adopt the tough measures approved in surrounding Prince William County and elsewhere, lashing back last month with a statement denouncing the “vigilante agenda” of anti-illegal-immigrant activists.

So when Manassas Park announced that it had decided to cancel its third annual Latino Festival this month, the city said others were to blame for scaring away sponsors and spoiling the fun.

“There is a bit of a shadow cast because of the stuff that’s been going on around here,” said Mayor Frank Jones. “Groups that are anti-illegal [immigrant] are making a pretty strong presence. It’s not a very friendly kind of presence if you are Latino.”

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Manassas Park officials would not provide a list of sponsors who were leery of backing the festival because of tensions over the illegal-immigration laws. Theresa Polk, who was in charge of planning the event as deputy director of parks and recreation, said she could not name any of last year’s sponsors.

“We had over 40 major sponsors last year, and this year it went down to five,” she said. “We were getting feedback from citizens saying they would not be attending. They’re staying home and keeping their families close.”

The event’s sponsors were worried that if agents from Immigration and Customs Enforcement were to raid the festival, it would reflect poorly on their businesses, Polk said. “They felt the climate wasn’t right,” she said.

The cost of the one-day Latino Festival in 2005 and 2006 was roughly $30,000 each year, city officials said, with sponsors contributing more than $20,000 last year. They said they had raised only $750 for this year’s event.

Attendance at last year’s festival was smaller than in 2005, city officials acknowledged. According to Jones, the event drew more than 7,000 people each year, but Polk said last year’s festival attracted about 2,500. A little more than 30 percent of Manassas Park’s 11,642 residents are Hispanic, according to the most recent census estimates.

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