San Bernardino—Few cities have been battered as harshly by shifting policy and economic forces as this working-class suburb 60 miles east of downtown Los Angeles. Despite being in one of the fastest-growing regions of the state, San Bernardino is long on problems—such as vanishing jobs, gang violence and poor schools—and desperately short on solutions.
But Chas Kelley, a Republican city councilman and unabashed town booster, says there is one thing even more galling: He hears little English spoken in his supermarket checkout line and, worse, he says, the local Wal-Mart ads seem to turn their back on people like him, showing more Mexican than American flags.
“They’re a business, and I understand that they’re after market share,” Kelley said of Wal-Mart, as he brandished a store advertisement showing a dark-haired family wearing Mexican soccer jerseys as they watch a televised soccer match between Latin American teams. “But at some point in time, when does it stop? When does it become my America?”
That is why Kelley, though proud that he lives on a melting pot of a street here, has become an enthusiastic supporter of what many regard as one of the most discriminatory, anti-illegal-immigrant proposals in the country.
The proposal calls for shutting down day labor centers in the city, banning landlords from renting apartments to undocumented immigrants and lifting permits—even confiscating property—from businesses that employ them, whether in the city or elsewhere.
In fact, say advocates unapologetically, it is intended to drive illegal immigrants out of the city. The real hope is that the law will turn into a movement, with other cities adopting the same harsh measures.
“This initiative is the kind of out-of-the-box thinking that you’re not seeing in the federal government,” said Kelley, sitting in his tidy tract home on Varsity Avenue. “If you can’t rent apartments here, you can’t put your kids in our schools, and that leaves more time for the kids who speak English.”
The initiative, known as the City of San Bernardino Illegal Immigrant Relief Act, failed to pass the City Council by a 4-3 vote last month, but it is heading for a special election, probably in September, after proponents gathered the 2,200 required signatures.
“It’s not about being a racist or singling out one segment of society to punish it,” he said. “It’s about the law. There’s no middle ground on that.”
Kelley believes the initiative will pass by a large margin. Citizens, he said, are fed up.
“That’s where we’re at now, to the boiling point,” he said.
Opponents insist that it will go down in defeat, and that even if passed it would never survive court challenges, but they say it will still take a toll.
“The truth is we’re heading toward a deadlock on this issue,” said Navarro of UC Riverside. “There’s no sense of common ground or middle ground.”
To show your support for Chas Kelly and to encourage other members of the city council, please send e-mail to [email protected]