A project of the Center for Community Change

Enforcement at your own peril

by Dennis Chin, guest blogger

Yesterday, The New York Times published an article detailing a growing divide in the community of Fremont, Nebraska.

Characterized as a “serene” place with “polite” politics, the community is currently embroiled in a debate about immigration (Understatement!  Just check out that video.  Oye!).  On Monday, residents of Fremont will decide whether to ban businesses from hiring illegal immigrants and bar landlords from renting to them. Residents demanded the vote, fighting off challenges by some of their elected leaders all the way to the State Supreme Court.

Why don’t we take a step back for a minute here?

Before any of y’all get riled up, let’s consider some other towns that in the past have resorted to enforcement-only measures to address immigration:

Riverside, NJ:

In 2006, the town of Riverside, NJ enacted laws penalizing anyone who employed or rented to an undocumented immigrant.  Many of the town’s immigrants left Riverside in response to the law.  After their departure,  the local economy took a turn for the worse.  Many businesses, restaurants and corner shops that catered to the immigrants saw business plummet; several closed.

”I don’t think people knew there would be such an economic burden,” said Mayor George Conard, who voted for the original ordinance. ”A lot of people did not look three years out.”

Stillmore, GA:

In 2006, ICE conducted a raid in Stillmore, GA.  At the same time, the state also saw some of the nation’s toughest measures targeting undocumented immigrants.   So what happened?  The local economy experienced a massive drop and many businesses were forced to downsize or shut down all together.

The B&S convenience store, owned by Keith and Regan Slater, the mayor’s son and grandson, lost about 80 percent of its business.

“These people come over here to make a better way of life, not to blow us up,” complained Keith Slater, who keeps a portrait of Ronald Reagan on the wall. “I’m a die-hard Republican, but I think we missed the boat with this one.”

Postville, IA:

In 2008, a meatpacking plant in Postville, IA was a site of massive workplace raid.  It’s worth mentioning that immigrants breathed new life into the town, which was struggling to keep afloat economically before immigrants came to the town.

As a rule, the immigrants’ priorities—family, work, religion—dovetailed with those of the townspeople, who were thankful for Postville’s return to normalcy. A sense of stability, even moderate prosperity, began to envelop the town. The immigrants, and the money they spent, brought “a taste of the good life,” said Jeff Abbas, the bearded, Marlboro-smoking operations manager at local public radio station KPVL. “Small towns in the Midwest, especially this part of the Midwest, don’t do well economically. They hang on, but that’s about it. Postville was doing pretty well.”

That is, until ICE came.  Years after the raid, Postville is still trying to regain its footing.

If anything, these stories show that immigrants are a part of our economic lifeblood and we can’t simply enforce our way out of immigration.

If we do, we do it at our own peril.

You think someone should tell that to Fremont, Nebraska?

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