Times Finds "Nasty" Politics, Unpleasant Opponents of Illegal Immigration in Illinois

Alex Kotlowitz: "Over the past two years, more than 40 local and state governments have passed ordinances and legislation aimed at making life miserable for illegal immigrants in the hope that they'll have no choice but to return to their countries of origin. Deportation by attrition, some call it."

The Sunday Magazine cover story this week is heralded on the cover as "All Immigration Politics Is Local (And Complicated, Nasty and Personal)."

No prizes for guessing which side is portrayed by the Times as "nasty." As for the complications, author Alex Kotlowitz, writer in residence at Northwestern Univerity and a regular contributor to the Times magazine, doesn't find many:Basically, the side opposed to illegal immigration is reactionary and unpleasant, while the pro-illegal side is humanebut hurting.

Kotlowitz went to Carpentersville, Ill., which, according to the cover, "has taken the issue of illegal immigrants into its own hands. It's tearing people apart."

"When I first met with Judy Sigwalt and her fellow village trustee Paul Humpfer this past April, they were, understandably, feeling assured, if not emboldened. A few weeks earlier, with the endorsement of the two local newspapers, they were elected to their village board on the platform that their town, Carpentersville, Ill., should do everything in its power to discourage illegal immigrants from settling there. They vowed to pass a local ordinance that would penalize landlords that rented to illegal aliens and businesses that hired them. They also pledged to make English the official language of the village, which would mean discontinuing the practice of printing various notices - including building-code violations and the monthly newsletter - in both English and Spanish."

The unflattering portrayal of illegal-immigration opponents was a theme that shot through the 8,000-word story.

"Sigwalt, who is 54, is short and square-shouldered. With her close-cropped haircut and scolding manner, she can come across as a stern, no-nonsense schoolteacher. Humpfer, who is 43 and an accountant at Zurich Financial Services, a Swiss-based company with operations in the U.S., seems less comfortable with all the attention. His sentences are often punctuated by a nervous, uneasy laugh. He has large, handsome features and a dark complexion; as a result, he's often mistaken for being Latino, though he's actually part American Indian."


"It's in places like Carpentersville where we may be witnessing the opening of a deep and profound fissure in the American landscape. Over the past two years, more than 40 local and state governments have passed ordinances and legislation aimed at making life miserable for illegal immigrants in the hope that they'll have no choice but to return to their countries of origin. Deportation by attrition, some call it."

The Times writer finds a local conservative, Tom Roeser, to call Sigwalt and Humpfer "bigots." Roeser got a favorable profile:

"Roeser considers himself an exceptionally rational decision maker. But it became clear as we spent time together that he took great satisfaction in getting to know the Hispanics who work for him. He has come to know their travails and at times has offered a hand."


"The charred socket has become a totem for Sigwalt and Humpfer, symbolizing all that they believe has gone awry in Carpentersville: overcrowded homes and schools, rising crime, blighted neighborhoods and residents who speak little or no English. (They complain about the public announcements in Spanish at the local Wal-Mart and Sears.) For them, it boils down to this: many Mexican immigrants are reluctant to adopt the American culture. 'They want the American dream, but they don't want to assimilate,' Sigwalt told me. 'Immigrants are what made this country great, but the immigrants of yesterday and the immigrants of today are totally different people. They don't have the love of this country in their hearts.'

More loaded language:

"When Italians came here in the late 19th century and early 20th century, nativist Americans chafed at the new arrivals' inability - or in the eyes of some, their unwillingness - to master English, language being the most visible and tangible measure of whether an immigrant group is becoming American."

And, still more unflattering body language applied to the opponents of illegal immigration.

"Sigwalt sat on the edge of her chair, fuming. She and Humpfer had, for the time being, chosen to table their proposed ordinances until the courts ruled on the one passed in Hazleton. They didn't want the town to incur the costs of a lawsuit. But they continued to push the town to adopt English as its official language. 'The country has been crying out loud and clear as to what they want,' she heatedly responded. 'As far as the law, I don't expect to get out of a parking ticket. The American people are angry....While illegal aliens are looking for their dreams, the American people are losing theirs.' Her comments were met with applause. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw a man who looked to be Hispanic shaking his head. The man, who turned out to be Ruiz, strode out of the room and in the hallway sought out a police officer. I got up and followed him. He was clearly shaken. He explained to me and the police officer that as he had entered the village hall, a man with his young daughter in tow told him, 'This is a white man's meeting.'"


"Sigwalt and Humpfer's main arguments for ridding the town of illegal immigrants come down to this: their presence has led to both rising crime and overcrowded schools. As it turns out, however, the crime rate in Carpentersville has actually been cut in half over the past 10 years; and while the schools were, indeed, overcrowded four to five years ago (when Antonia Garcia moved her family out), class sizes have now been reduced - although it did require the passage of a tax referendum.

"It is clear, though, that Sigwalt and Humpfer have had an impact. Hispanics are leaving town. On the east side, for-sale signs seem as ubiquitous as the cicadas that emerged this spring; the number of homes for sale has nearly doubled from the same time last year. While part of that may be a result of the slow housing market, real estate agents told me that some people say they want to leave town, either because they or a family member is illegal or simply because they feel unwelcome. Ruiz's father is selling a rental property because he doesn't want any problems from the village. One woman, Mireya Delgado-Aguilera, who has chosen to stay in town, at least for the time being, told me that she's considering sending her two children to a Christian school because she's concerned that the animus will spill over into the public schools."

Kotlowitz described a heated village board of trustees meeting:

"Things quickly spiraled out of control. Two Hispanic women who had come with a contingent from Chicago rose from their seats and began chanting: 'Viva la Raza. Viva la Raza.' 'Speak English,' someone hollered. Two older men in the back row waved American flags. The women were ejected."

Kotlowitz doesn't bother to translate "Viva la Raza," which means "Long live the race!"- more a display of racial superiority than of racial harmony, the lack of which he criticized on the other side of the debate. Neither does he attempt to portray the body language of the protestors in an unflattering manner. He only provides that local colorto the anti-illegal immigrant side.

"Sigwalt seemed particularly taut, in large part because she was disappointed that they had to retreat from their original proposal. 'The reason we don't have a unified country is because the second and third generations are not learning English,' she lectured. 'What is tearing our community apart is that there are so many different languages I can't interact with my neighbors anymore.'"