Anti-Immigrant Rhetoric Clashes with Real People’s Lives

Less than a month ago, officials in Valley Park, Missouri — population 6,500 — were inspired by Hazleton, Pennsylvania’s anti-immigrant effort to pass an ordinance of their own.

The mayor, who drives a truck for a local excavation company, was listening to the radio about a month ago and heard a story about a town in Pennsylvania passing a new law. It made English the city’s official language. It mandated fines for landlords who rent to illegal immigrants. It punished businesses that hire them.

Good idea, Jeffery Whitteaker remembers thinking.

So the mayor asked the Valley Park city attorney to draft a similar ordinance. The Board of Aldermen passed it unanimously. There was little debate, Whitteaker said. No one showed up to protest. …

No, Whitteaker admitted, he couldn’t point to specific evidence of what the law claimed – that illegal immigration increases crime, overcrowds schools and destroys neighborhoods. At least not in Valley Park, a city of 6,500 where illegal immigration is not the widespread problem it is closer to the border.

But Whitteaker didn’t want to wait for a problem to pop up. He calls the law “preventative maintenance.”

Now, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reports, police are going after landlords.

A former alderman and Valley Park police officer, [Ed] Sidwell finds himself in a difficult position. He was at the meeting when the council unanimously passed the new law. He told the mayor he supported it; the country needs to combat illegal immigration, he believes. And he feels he must abide by the city law, even if it means making a hard choice.

“I’m probably going to have no choice but to provide them with a notice to vacate,” he said. “It’s very emotional for me. … We are dealing with people’s lives.” …

City Attorney Eric Martin said suspected violators will first be sent letters giving them 10 days to show that their tenants or employees are not breaking federal immigration law. …

Sidwell, who owns several rental properties in Valley Park, said police informed him about a house he was renting to a man, his wife and children. The man is here legally, he said, but his family is not.

“I didn’t even think to be concerned about his wife and children,” Sidwell said. “They are just good, hardworking people.”

He said he reluctantly delivered a letter to his tenants Thursday, asking them to provide documents showing they are in the country legally.

Valley Park — which, the mayor admitted, actually has none of the problems with immigrants that its ordinance claims — is one of a growing handful of small towns that are rushing to embrace the anti-immigrant sentiment that appears to be rolling across the country by way of Minutemen stunts, right-wing media, and “field hearings” held by House Republicans. While Hazleton mayor Lou Barletta seems pleased that “People are leaving daily,” people like Sidwell who are frustrated with Congress and find the “get them out” rhetoric compelling at first may have second thoughts as the reality catches up to real people in their community.