WSJ: Small Groups, Talk Radio Fuel Small-Town Anti-Immigrant Drive

An article (temporary link) in today’s Wall Street Journal examines the rise of nativist groups and anti-immigrant sentiment – such as California’s “Save Our State,” which inspired small towns like Hazleton, Pennsylvania to attempt to crack down on immigrants through local ordinances:

Armed with a computer and less than $100, Joseph Turner two years ago formed a group called "Save Our State." His goal: save California from turning into a "Third World cesspool" of illegal immigrants, he says. The group doesn't have a formal membership, and Mr. Turner counts barely 2,000 people on his email list and message board.

Yet this meager base has proved to be a powerful springboard. Through his Web site, Mr. Turner has recruited supporters to hold confrontational protests outside Home Depot stores, where unauthorized workers often gather to seek jobs. He has also helped ignite a nationwide movement by local governments to crack down on illegal immigration. So far, about 10 towns have passed ordinances to drive out undocumented immigrants after getting the idea from Mr. Turner. Dozens of other towns are considering such measures. …

"With as little as five people you can shut down a day-laborer center," says Mr. Turner, because employers will be too intimidated to stop and hire them. Contractors have been deterred from hiring from these sites during the protests and in several days that followed. Home Depot declines to comment on Mr. Turner.

At a rally outside the day-laborer center in the ritzy coastal town of Laguna Beach, neo-Nazis and white supremacists waved Nazi and confederate flags. Mr. Turner says they weren't welcome at the event but that he couldn't stop them and that Save our State members left shortly after they arrived. Mr. Turner says he also deletes white-supremacist rhetoric when it pops up on his Web site's message board.

About a year ago, Mr. Turner drafted a three-page ordinance -- the "City of San Bernardino Illegal Immigrant Relief Act." Although it was derailed before it could come to a citywide vote, the ordinance went on to be imitated, and passed, by several towns and cities across the country.

Meanwhile, towns that adopted the Turner-inspired ordinances, like Riverside, New Jersey, are reeling as large parts of the community leave:

Dave Ercolani is glad he's retiring and closing his hardware store. It could be tough to stay in business now that the township, not long ago teeming with recent arrivals from Brazil, has adopted one of the nation's toughest anti-immigration laws.

The town council adopted an ordinance in July that makes it a crime for businesses to knowingly employ illegal immigrants or for landlords to rent to them. Even though the law isn't being enforced, its effects can be felt because of a fast loss of hundreds of residents who have left town since the law was adopted.

"This town was starting to move," said Ercolani, who said he does not know whether the law was right or wrong. "I feel that they killed everything."

Riverside is an old industrial town on the banks of the Delaware River. Its downtown has wide sidewalks and wider streets lined with proud two-story buildings. Many of them - more than a few months ago - have "Apartment for Rent" or "Store Closed" signs. And on Wednesday afternoon, there was almost no life on the sidewalks. People who work downtown say that's a big change from before the ordinance was adopted.