A new study finds Prince William County's immigration policy has cut the number of illegal immigrants, and the authors said the rates of some crimes have fallen since the policy was implemented.
"Perhaps the greatest affect of the law was that the message that it sent to illegal immigrants: You're not welcome in our community, and especially if you're going to commit a crime, if you're a law breaker, you better leave because we are going to identify you and we're going to have you deported," County Chairman Corey Stewart told NBC Washington's Jane Watrel.
A two-year University of Virginia study of the policy presented to the county's Board of Supervisors Tuesday also found that the policy created an ethnic divide in perceptions of the county but that has been largely repaired.
One opponent called it three years of terror.
"Prince William County's reputation as a community that is welcoming and inclusive and especially inclusive to diverse peoples has been shattered, has been destroyed," said John Steinbach, of Mexicans Without Borders. "If you look at the report, there still is a big difference between Spanish-speaking immigrants and English-speaking native born in terms of their satisfaction with the county."
There has been a dramatic drop in aggravated assaults, according to the report.
"UVA has concluded that there was a direct connection between the cracking down on illegal immigration and a drop in violent crime in our community," Stewart said.
The policy initially allowed officers who reasonably suspected someone might be an illegal immigrant to ask about their immigration status, but was later changed to require checks for anyone arrested.
An interim report released last year estimated that fewer than 5,000 legal and illegal immigrants left the county by mid-2008 and noted the economic crisis was a contributing factor. It also found the policy did not boost residents' sense of safety, but appeared to create an ethnic divide in perceptions of the county.
The authors of the study included a disclaimer naming other factors in play at the time the immigration policy was implemented, including the collapse of the economy, the housing markets and the construction industry, Watrel reported.