Residents packed Manassas City Hall last night to express vehement opposition or unwavering support for a controversial ordinance that made it illegal for extended relatives such as aunts, uncles and cousins to live together as a family, primarily targeting the city’s growing Latino population.
After listening to more than two hours of debate, the City Council decided to postpone discussion of the ordinance, which was suspended last week as groups including the American Civil Liberties Union of Virginia promised a court challenge and called on the U.S. Justice Department to investigate possible violations of the federal Fair Housing Act.
Several dozen Latino residents called on the council to repeal the ordinance last night, including members of the group Mexicans Without Borders, who stood outside City Hall with signs. One read: “Targeting Immigrants—the New Racism.”
“This ordinance is affecting our lives and our families,” said Ricardo Juarez, 38, a coordinator with the group. “For me and for my community, family is a sacred space, and we consider this ordinance to be against the basis of human civilization.”
Others came to support the ordinance, arguing that their quiet suburban life had been disrupted by parking, garbage and other problems they associate with overcrowded housing and, more broadly, people they assume to be illegal immigrants.
In his state of the city address, Mayor Douglas S. Waldron (R) said officials would continue to review the ordinance.
“Let me say, given the lack of clear guidance from the courts and given the state and federal government’s apparent unwillingness to address the problems . . . it is not surprising that our willingness to take action on this issue has made Manassas a lightning rod,” Waldron said. “Those who would characterize any of our actions as racially motivated are absolutely wrong. . . What we cannot and will not do is ignore the problem.”
But last night, many residents urged the city to resist the pressure of groups they labeled as outsiders. “Anytime you are being criticized by the ACLU and The Washington Post, I say, keep up the good work,” Tony Kostelecky said.