A petition drive to ban day-labor centers and bar illegal immigrants from renting apartments in San Bernardino has gathered enough signatures to force a City Council vote on the proposal, potentially setting off another political maelstrom in a Southern California city grappling with immigration issues.
The results come three days after hundreds of thousands of protesters took to streets nationwide to demonstrate the political and economic power of legal and illegal immigrants—and as Congress tries to bridge the political divide over immigration reform.
“I’m expecting this to be a knockdown, drag-out fistfight,” said Joseph Turner, executive director of anti-illegal immigrant group Save Our State, who led the petition drive. “If something like this passes in San Bernardino, it’s going to send shock waves through the national immigration debate. The opposition has a lot to lose.”
Turner gathered 2,216 signatures to invoke a rarely used provision of San Bernardino’s city charter that would force council members to vote on the proposal in 10 days, without any amendments. If the council rejects the ordinance, the measure automatically goes before voters on a citywide ballot.
The proposal would prohibit illegal immigrants from renting or leasing property, holding landlords liable and subject to a minimum $1,000 fine; allow police to impound vehicles used to transport undocumented workers; require the city to deny permits, contracts and grants to employers that hire illegal immigrants; and require city business to be conducted in English.
“This is a racist directive at the immigrant community, “said UC Riverside professor Armando Navarro, an immigrant-rights activist and member of the National Alliance for Human Rights in Riverside. “San Bernardino is going to become critical; this could spread” to other cities.
San Bernardino joins a growing list of Southern California cities that have plunged into the controversy over immigration by adopting local measures to either crack down on illegal migrants or offer them refuge.