Some of the most contentious issues raised in recent immigration reform discussions – prioritizing business over family, the exercise of prosecutorial discretion, the reach and responsibilities of law enforcement – were played out in a parking lot in Hyattsville, Maryland yesterday. The specific debate was about parking, but the arguments and proposals for resolution may as well have been about how U.S. legislators, courts, and law enforcement decide to permit non-native-born men, women, and children to enter and remain in the United States.
Every Saturday, Northwestern High School hosts a very popular Flea Market run by the International Studies Program. This Flea Market takes place in the main school parking lot – vendors sell everything from bananas to bandanas to barbecue. Several Saturdays in the spring, Northwestern High School also hosts track and field meets for schools in the Catholic Youth Organization of the Archdiocese of Washington. Several hundred students from dozens of schools in the area participate in these meets – well over a thousand athletes and their families attend the track and field events every Saturday. Parking is always a problem at these meets, and especially so at Northwestern, when the main lot is filled with vendors who have been there since dawn setting up their stands. Families arrive to the track meet and – finding no legitimate parking spots left – resort to parking along the curbs and on the hillside behind the bleachers.
Yesterday, the track meet organizers announced that cars parked on the hillside would be ticketed and towed. Grumbling parents and grandparents trudged out of the bleachers to move their cars, some loudly claiming that the school should cancel the flea market on weekends when track meets or other high attendance events are held – why ruin the goodwill gained by hosting the meets in the first place? A young gentleman with a hand-held electronic ticketing device was citing certain cars, vans, and trucks parked haphazardly along the curb. He was clearly employed by an agency authorized to issue parking tickets at the school, but his weekend-casual uniform also indicated he was not a member of the Prince George’s County police force. He spoke to the parents: “I am only ticketing those vehicles blocking the fire and emergency vehicle access lanes. I am not going to ticket those cars parked along the yellow curb that are not blocking access to the school or fields. I cannot guarantee the police will not come and ticket your cars, but it is a weekend and a big hassle for them to write out individual tickets by hand when I can do it faster and easier on my device here – and I am solving the emergency access problem. But I promise you I am only ticketing the most egregious offenders.” Pleased by this reasonable response, families made their way back to the meet. However, an hour later the meet organizers announced that the police were ticketing and towing any cars parked along the yellow curbs. Hundreds of parents who had been assured that only the most dangerously-parked vehicles would be cited left the bleachers to move their cars into the surrounding neighborhood. “But you promised!” and “Cancel the stupid flea market!” they cried. The consequences were financial and emotional – some were ticketed, some missed their kids placing in a photo-finish 400 meter dash. Some simply reparked their cars and purchased barbecue from the flea market vendors.
Northwestern should not have to cancel a long-standing and popular flea market because of a special event, nor should it discontinue hosting middle school sporting events because of lack of ample parking – both the ongoing commercial enterprise and the family events contribute to community goodwill and raise the profile of the school as long as law enforcement is clear on – and willing to cooperate with – the school’s priorities. Business and family can coexist. Lower-rung authorities are capable of quick and reasonable decisionmaking. Law enforcement authorities with overlapping jurisdiction should communicate to avoid giving conflicting information to the affected public. Enforcement zealotry eviscerates goodwill and secures nothing. Perhaps the legislators, policy makers, and attorneys who are shaping immigration reform will lift their heads from the minutiae of 844-page proposals and gain insight into the broader issues at play during a seemingly unrelated event. Northwestern is hosting three more Saturday track meets this season.