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Comments by YACCS
Monday, July 10, 2006

We're not racist, honest.

This immigrant can stay:)

A Florida Mayor Turns to an Immigration Curb to Fix a Fading City

AVON PARK, Fla., July 6 — Tom Macklin, the mayor of this faded city deep in Florida's citrus belt, heard the idea on talk radio and latched on with relish.

A city up north, Hazleton, Pa., planned to root out and punish landlords who rented to illegal immigrants, fining them $1,000 for every such tenant. Mr. Macklin, whose own small city has swelled with immigrants from Mexico, Haiti and Jamaica over the past decade, swiftly proposed the same for Avon Park.

"It was almost as if I was sitting in church at a revival and he was preaching to me," Mr. Macklin said of Mayor Lou Barletta of Hazleton, whom he heard promoting that city's Illegal Immigration Relief Act on the radio show last month. "If we address the housing issue — make it as difficult as possible for illegals to find safe haven in Avon Park — then they are going to have to find someplace else to go."

Like Hazleton's proposal, Avon Park's would deny business permits to companies that knowingly hired illegal immigrants. The ordinance, which states that illegal immigration "destroys our neighborhoods and diminishes our overall quality of life," would also make English the official language of Avon Park, removing Spanish from all city documents, signs and automated phone messages.

Mr. Macklin, a Republican whose City Council is nonpartisan, said he had been bombarded with positive feedback since proposing the ordinance in late June, even getting e-mail messages from California and Illinois. But some residents have called him racist, and others, like Joe Wright, a dairy farmer who said two-thirds of his work force was Hispanic, said the ordinance would be unenforceable and unconstitutional.


But Mary Bauer, director of the Immigrant Justice Project at the Southern Poverty Law Center, said the proposal violated several laws, including the Fair Housing Act and Title VI of the Civil Rights Act.

"The real problem is that it's obvious the effect of this will be to discriminate against immigrants and Latinos generally," Ms. Bauer said, adding that the center might sue if the ordinance passed. "Any thinking landlord reading this would likely decide that renting to immigrants or Latinos is a risky proposition."

Cesar A. Perales, president of the Puerto Rican Legal Defense and Education Fund, said he had sent two lawyers to meet with Hispanic groups in Hazleton recently and might sue to stop its ordinance.

"The Latino community is just about as angry as any I've ever seen," Mr. Perales said. "They've come to Hazleton to be part of that community, and they certainly improved the economic conditions of what by most accounts was a dying town, and helped revitalize it. And they now feel they are being blamed for every ill in the city."

Mr. Barletta said his proposal, up for a final vote July 13, was modeled on a similar one in San Bernardino, Calif., which stalled because its proponents failed to gather enough signatures to get it on the ballot. He wrote it, he said, after illegal immigrants committed several rattling crimes in Hazleton, a city of 31,000, this year.

Both proposals have led to false rumors that have fanned fears in recent weeks. At the Golden Age Villas in Avon Park, Ashley Neff, 20, whose boyfriend is an illegal immigrant from Mexico, said she had heard that speaking Spanish would not be allowed in shops and restaurants.

"They're saying they're not even going to let people in grocery stores," Ms. Neff said. "How is that fair? Even a lot of the people who are legal citizens prefer to speak Spanish because it comes easier to them."

Down the street, Patrick Graham, a Jamaican immigrant who said he was here legally, said it was foolish to force out illegal immigrants because nobody else would work in the fields and groves.

"I sure ain't going out there to pick any oranges," said Mr. Graham, who owns a window-cleaning business. "All the hard work, the Mexicans are doing it."

Melva Santana, a shopkeeper who was among a crowd of whites, blacks and Hispanics eating at Taqueria Merlo on Thursday, said she feared the ordinance would encourage people who had kept their prejudices quiet to begin harassing immigrants.

This week, Ms. Santana said, a sales clerk refused to sell her sister beer because she had a Puerto Rico driver's license, and the clerk said, "I can't read it."

None of this has to do with immigration, but has a lot to do with picking on Hispanics, regardless of citizenship.

Once you opened the door here, racism jumped right in.

posted by Steve @ 12:40:00 AM

12:40:00 AM

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