Two towns, two stands on immigration reform
One California city gets tough with illegals, even as another opts to become a 'sanctuary.'
MAYWOOD AND COSTA MESA, CALIF.
One community is car-horn noisy, smokestack gritty, and tightly packed - with narrow streets, tiny houses, and flowering window boxes. The other is golf-course quiet, sumptuously green, and suburban - with broad boulevards, spacious lawns, and parks.Skip to next paragraph
Subscribe Today to the Monitor
Just a few miles of freeway separate these southern California towns, but they are light-years apart in their responses to America's immigration debate. Maywood, population 45,000 and 96 percent Latino, is a self- proclaimed "sanctuary" for illegal immigrants. Costa Mesa, population 110,000 and one-third Latino, is examining ways to train some of its police force to help US immigration officials identify illegals.
As Washington grapples with rewriting US immigration law, possibly settling the status of up to 12 million undocumented residents, the state that is home to 1 in 3 of them shows how the issue is playing out at the local level - with communities deciding for themselves whether to support or subvert the federal will.
"Though immigration policy is primarily a federal prerogative, there is incredible variation at the local and state level playing out now," says Karthick Ramakrishnan, a political scientist at the University of California at Riverside and author of "Democracy in Immigrant America." "The big story at the local level now is that smaller towns, from 50,000 to 100,000 residents, are wading into the problem. Even though California has been dealing with this for decades, its smaller cities are just beginning to wrestle [with] the challenges."
Overlapping local, state, and federal mandates may be contributing to conflict and confusion among jurisdictions, say Professor Ramakrishnan and others. The federal government has primary responsibility for border enforcement and deportation, while local governments are responsible for maintaining law and order and providing public services.
In January, Maywood became the first municipality in California to declare itself a "sanctuary city." The city council, in effect, signalled its displeasure with legislation that had recently cleared the US House, voting to disregard the bill's call to classify illegal presence in the US as a felony and to enlist local police in enforcing federal immigration law. It also directed the city's police department to stop towing away cars of drivers who don't have driver's licenses - a practice it said unfairly targeted illegal immigrants.
"We did it because people in the community came to us and said we have to take a stand," says Deputy Mayor Felipe Aguirre, who runs a small Mexican art gallery on traffic-clogged Slauson Avenue. All last year, he says, residents became increasingly agitated about the Minutemen - groups of citizens, sometimes armed - standing watch at the US border to alert officials to illegal border-crossings. Then, in December, the House passed its tough border-security bill.
"The world around us is caught up in draconian ideas to tighten the noose around people who are taking care of their kids, landscaping their homes, making their clothes, picking their food," says Mr. Aguirre. "We believe there is a higher law."
A few freeway exits to the south in Costa Mesa, 24-hour fitness gyms, yoga centers, and franchise food outlets stand in contrast to Maywood's retail strips. Here, a different attitude toward illegal immigration finds expression.