Posted on October 6, 2006

Protest Sends A Message: Immigrant Crackdown Effort Draws Strong Reaction

John Keilman and George Houde, Chicago Tribune, October 5, 2006

After a weekend of posting fliers, making church announcements and issuing press releases, opponents of a proposed crackdown on illegal immigrants in Carpentersville figured that a few hundred people would attend a protest Tuesday.

They were as surprised as anyone to get a crowd so thick that it extended from the front door of Carpentersville’s Village Hall to the street 50 yards away, an overwhelmingly Latino mass of humanity estimated at 3,000.

“I was expecting half,” said Juan Silva of the Mexican Civic and Cultural Organization of Elgin. “[But] the message we sent out was that if you don’t show up today, you’re going to be sorry tomorrow. And the reaction was good.”

The huge turnout was a sign that a coast-to-coast movement to localize the fight over immigration reform has landed in Chicago’s suburbs, promising to provoke debates every bit as fiery as those raging in Pennsylvania, Missouri and California.

Forty-one local governments nationwide have passed or are considering ordinances similar to the one proposed in Carpentersville, which would penalize landlords who rent to illegal immigrants and employers who hire them.

The measure in the northwest suburb is the first of its kind in Illinois, but some activists don’t expect it to be the last.

“It’s only been within the last 10 to 20 years that the population has changed [in many suburbs],” said Kristin Kumpf, suburban organizer for the Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights. “You have predominantly white communities trying to figure it out, and there’s a lot of fear. People are not as used to ethnic diversity.”

Advocates for the ordinances say they’re trying to stem a problem that has spun out of control for the federal government, which bears primary responsibility for border enforcement.

“I think everyone can agree [federal agencies] haven’t done a very good job, so we’re assessing our role in how we can assist them,” said Carpentersville Trustee Paul Humpfer.

He co-wrote the ordinance and said he is hearing nothing but praise from Carpentersville residents. He said the village of 37,000 — almost half of them Hispanic — is suffering because illegal immigrants aren’t paying ambulance bills and are overcrowding many apartments and houses.

“There are people living in garages, multiple families living in a single home,” he said. “I’m hoping that will ease [if the ordinance is approved], considering these people may be illegal aliens.”

But some business owners are nervous about what else might happen. Edward Mure, who runs Gardenia Liquors and Wine in the Meadowdale Shopping Center, said 90 percent of his customers are Hispanic.

“If they pass that, every business would have to close down here,” he said. “I’m not kidding. This would be a ghost town. Our most popular beers are Mexican.”

Sunny Pai, an immigrant from India who manages the Cinema 12 theater, supported the measure when he thought it was aimed at street criminals, but changed his mind upon learning that it would target all undocumented immigrants.

“That’s tough,” said Pai, who has become a citizen. “I don’t know what to say. This has never happened in America.”

Residents Joe and Diane Kwasny had mixed feelings.

“We’re not trying to ban anybody from Carpentersville, but people shouldn’t be here illegally,” Joe Kwasny said.

“As long as they pay taxes, keep up their homes and speak English, we don’t care where they are from,” Diane Kwasny said.


The crowd that assembled in Carpentersville followed other larger-than-expected demonstrations this year in Chicago, Elgin and Aurora that rallied opposition to stricter immigration laws.

Ricardo Meza, Midwest regional counsel for the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund, said that after decades of inaction, many Hispanics are now throwing themselves into the political process to stave off what they view as threatening legislation.

“There’s a realization that if they don’t do something, if they don’t take to the streets, something will happen and it will be bad,” he said.


Combating illegal immigration

A proposal in Carpentersville targets illegal immigrants. It would:

  • Deny a business permit to any employer found to have knowingly hired undocumented workers.
  • Fine landlords who rent to illegal immigrants $1,000.
  • Make English the official language for village documents, forms and signs.