PEÑITAS, TEXAS—The No Trespassing sign tacked to a mesquite tree outside Elizabeth Nelson’s property, along with the snarling of Marcos, her fierce Rottweiler, make her feelings clear: Illegal immigrants aren’t welcome.
“There are good people coming just to make a living, but there are bad people, too,” said Nelson, fed up with the sight of immigrants streaming into Peñitas, a town of 1,200 along the Rio Grande. “You just don’t trust anybody.”
Her attitude reflects what some anti-immigrant activists describe as “an awakening.” More Americans, they say, are beginning to take a tougher stance against illegal immigration. And they’re beginning to question the so-called sanctuary policies that are designed to protect illegal immigrants in such cities as Houston, Los Angeles, Chicago and New York.
“Every political survey that is done shows concern about immigration ranks up there with education, employment, and health care,” said Ira Mehlman, a spokesman for the Federation for American Immigration Reform, a lobby group that opposes illegal immigration. “It’s on the minds of people everywhere because it’s no longer a localized phenomenon.”
A recent Austin lawsuit has drawn attention to the debate, fueling discussion of whether cities and towns should report illegal immigrants or leave enforcement to the federal government.
On Nov. 4, the parents of a teenager killed in January 2004 sued the Austin police department. Humberto Garcia claimed that his daughter, Jenny Garcia Hayden, might be alive if police had reported her killer to immigration authorities after his illegal status was purportedly discovered during an unrelated investigation before the murder.
Austin officials deny any wrongdoing. They say their policy, based on a 1997 city resolution, is aimed merely at ensuring that city employees do not discriminate against illegal immigrants.
In recent years, however, attitudes about such policies have begun to shift, Melhman said, as residents and officials in such communities as Suffolk County, N.Y., and Danbury, Conn., question sanctuary policies.
“The average cop on the beat would be more than happy” to report an illegal immigrant, he said. “Usually, these directives are from top brass who for the most part are politicians, not cops.”
Recent polls show strong opposition to illegal immigration from the southern border, including among Americans of Hispanic origin.
In May 2005, a Zogby International poll said 81 percent of those surveyed believed that local and state police should help federal authorities arrest illegal immigrants; 53 percent supported the deployment of troops on the border, and 56 percent opposed undocumented migrants’ participation in a guest worker program proposed by President Bush.