Illegal workers becoming flash point
More towns take it upon themselves to adopt, enforce
immigration laws By Alexandra Marks
DANBURY, Conn. - Fed up with the federal government's
inability to control the influx of undocumented workers, an increasing
number of local communities are taking matters into their own hands.
In Danbury, the mayor has called for state police to be
deputized as immigration officials to cope with the thousands of
undocumented workers in town. In New Ipswich, N.H., the police chief has
begun charging illegal immigrants with criminal trespass after federal
officials released others he'd arrested. And in Elsmere, Del., the Town
Council is considering an ordinance that would fine undocumented workers
$100. The landlords who rent to them and the employers who hire them would
face a $1,000 fine for each offense.
"What we see is a general failure of the federal government
to control undocumented migration into the United States," says Marcelo
Suarez-Orozco, co-director of Immigration Studies at New York University.
"At the same time, there's a growing momentum at the state level, county
level and in local communities to attempt to manage, in however faulty or
problematic way, this elephant in the room in today's migration."
They arrived in past decade
Officially, the census estimates that Danbury has
77,000 residents. But the mayor and others say the real number is closer to
92,000 because of an estimated 15,000 undocumented workers, many of whom
moved in over the past decade.
They've come for plentiful jobs in construction and
landscaping in neighboring and wealthy Fairfield County. Danbury is also a
better place for immigrants to raise their families than, say, the Lower
East Side of New York. And that's why they come, says Wilson Hernandez, past
president of the Ecuadorian Civic Center. "They want to come here so they
can make a living, just to provide some bread to keep their families
stable," he says.
But for some longtime residents like Lydia Yaglenski, a
mother who runs a body-shop business, they are lawbreakers, plain and
simple. She contends that the presence of the undocumented workers has
overburdened the local schools with a large number of children who can't
"It's not only the education," she adds. "We have to have
more police. These people park their cars everywhere; a landlord buys a
house, two people come to rent it, and before you know it, there are 20
Such frustrations came to a head at a meeting last month of
the newly formed Connecticut Citizens for Immigration Control. More than 150
people turned out to voice concerns about the impact that undocumented
workers are having on the community - everything from the large volleyball
games some immigrants play in their back yards to the decrease in local
"The illegals have a distinct advantage economically over
legals: They displace workers who would otherwise have those jobs," says
Paul Streitz, co-founder of Connecticut Citizens. "They accept wages that
are so low that it eventually gets to the point that contractors and others
can't but use illegals. Otherwise, they can't effectively compete for
But some of Danbury's residents, old and new, see such
concerns as shortsighted and uninformed at best, and bigoted at worst. These
residents note that undocumented workers make it possible for many longtime
businesses to survive: They do jobs, such as cleaning toilets, that others
shun. They also help keep consumer prices low on everything from a dinner
out to a jacket at the mall.