The suburbs were founded on fears of racial heterogeneity and sometimes it’s hard to escape that. The big news story of the last week was the private swimming pool in Philadelphia where the white members called minority campers using the pool racial epithets, pulled their children out of the water and then rescinded the camp’s permission to use the pool.
Closer to home (and much less abhorrently), the suburban story that I want to talk about is the Examiner’s report that Montgomery County is trying to cut the number of residents who can live in any given housing unit. The County has been receiving complaints, particularly from older neighborhoods like Silver Spring and Wheaton, of overcrowding. The residents complain about difficulties finding parking (quelle surprise) and reduced property values (ditto).
But then there’s this sentence from the Examiner article. “Some residents have complained of two- or three-bedroom homes in their neighborhood being filled with 10 to 12 unrelated adults who may be illegal immigrants.” Uh-oh. Now it’s starting to get ugly. Why do residents have any reason to believe their neighbors are undocumented? Have they asked to see green cards? Has ICE been raiding? Or, are they just living next to people who are low-income and I’m guessing Latino?
As Councilman Michael Knapp deserves credit for saying, the people complaining probably aren’t too concerned with the law as socioeconomic and ethnic changes in their neighborhoods: “The frustration is real. It doesn’t necessarily mean that the problem is a legal problem as much as it is the fact that people are frustrated because changes are taking place.”
Overcrowding has been used before as a way of justifying anti-immigrant and anti-Latino prejudice. In Morristown, New Jersey, for example, the mayor used overcrowding as an excuse to deputize his local police to enforce federal immigration law. It’s a pity to see Montgomery County moving down that path, particularly when it is simultaneously taking steps to move beyond its suburban heritage. One step forward, one step back.