A supporter of the Irving Police Department shouts slogans at the opposition during a rally in Irving, Texas October 13, 2007. Supporters on both sides came out to express their views about a controversial program used by the Irving Police Department which hands undocumented workers over to federal officials for deportation proceedings. Yahoo
A supporter of the Irving Police Department holds a sign along the route of a march held by pro immigration rights supporters in Irving, Texas October 13, 2007. Yahoo
Cities whose leaders think they've got this whole illegal-immigrant business under control might want to take a long, hard look at Irving – which, not so long ago, thought it had things under control, too.Yup, diversity fails again.
But Irving learned the hard way it doesn't take much to pull the pin on this political grenade.
Over the last couple of months, Irving has made the dismaying discovery that, as long as local governments are stuck making do-it-yourself immigration policy, there are no right answers.
There's no compromise, no tightrope-walking the line between irreconcilable factions, no throwing wide the window to the fresh breeze of reason. At a more distant remove, it might still be a policy debate. In Irving, it's civil war.
At least, that's what we're left to conclude when we read about Irving Hispanics comparing themselves to the Jews of 1930s Berlin, or witness the disturbing spectacle of an overwrought sexagenarian shooting the bird at TV cameras as the cops drag her off for attacking protesters at a pro-immigrant rally. This isn't debate – it's hysteria.
It wasn't that long ago that Irving's most prominent problem was figuring out what to do with Texas Stadium once the Dallas Cowboys move out ...
... a unanimous council vote to sign the city on to an existing program that allows the police to contact federal immigration authorities should they arrest someone whose legal status is in doubt.
Signing up to tip the feds to suspects who have actually been arrested for crimes does not, on its face, strike me as unreasonable. We're not talking about raiding people's homes or rounding them up after church.
But angry protests have broken out from two sides. Some say the police have been overzealous in arresting Hispanics for minor crimes, which has resulted in Irving achieving a record-setting deportation rate.
Dark rumors abound that it's unsafe for people of Hispanic appearance to drive across town or grab a latte at the mall; the school district says parents are keeping their kids home from school, lest they be snatched from their desks by deportation storm troopers.
From the opposite pole comes the swelling chorus of those who want more, much more, in the way of enforcement: They want the city to adopt a program that would turn local cops into immigration police, never mind calling in the feds to handle the job.
They want the public library to quit stocking books printed in Spanish. They want the city's official Web site reserved for readers of English only. They're outspoken, as was this recent Irving resident who wrote to The Dallas Morning News, about "the glut of illegal immigrants who are now occupying our city[.]"
I defy even the sunniest of optimists to find much room for compromise between these two camps. Government inaction at the federal level has pushed this fight down to towns and schools and neighborhoods, where it's ugly and personal.
Instead of a compromise, Irving has a fresh source of tension between those who think the city has resorted to racist profiling in its zeal for deportations and those infuriated over what they see as a growing indifference to the interests of lifelong residents.
... fear, fury, neighbor-vs.-neighbor mistrust.
Until there's some kind of sane and practical immigration reform out of Washington – and I'm turning blue from holding my breath – we'll have more of the same.
We'll have more ugly conflict at the local level, where the destruction is the worst. We'll have more civil wars.
Letters: Irving immigration debate, Dallas News:
Irving sounds like a good home townImmigration showdown in Texas, CNN:
My wife and I are actually thinking about moving to Irving. There is actually a city in North Texas that cares more about its citizens than those who are here illegally and those who refuse to assimilate into American culture.
Also, bravo to the elected officials who put citizens' safety and welfare ahead of those who seek to undermine our laws and sovereignty. I'm proud that a local municipality acted bravely to meet the threat of the illegal invasion.
With crime and drugs out of control in predominantly illegal neighborhoods, we are actively seeking a safe town to raise our kids. Irving sounds like that place.
Tom Sullivan, Bedford
... "You thought I was from immigration?" I asked one.
"Si", the man replied. My producer, Patricia Pedraza, translated the rest. "The fear is with both immigration and the police. Now you cannot trust absolutely anybody."
In Irving, Texas, a Dallas suburb of about 200,000 people, right next to the big airport, an estimated 40 percent of the city is Latino, and anecdotally, we're told there are a lot of undocumented workers here, people who are in the U.S. illegally, but clearly don't view themselves as criminals.
"They take innocent people, they think we're all the same," another undocumented worker told me.
The fear is a reaction to what's called the Criminal Alien Program. Since September of last year, Irving police started to refer anyone arrested in their community to federal authorities, who check their immigration status.
"It's only for people who have violated Texas laws, and are arrested and brought into the Irving jail," said Larry Boyd, Irving's police chief.
As a result, referrals for deportations have shot up to 1,600, more than 40 times the number from the year before. Statistics from police show that while some of those referrals were for people who committed serious crimes, the majority were a result of misdemeanors and traffic warrants. Many sources told me that a growing number of Latinos here are afraid to drive. The risk is being caught with a suspended license, going to jail and getting deported.
See the effect the program has had on Irving »
... I read from two tall stacks of printed e-mail addressed to the City Council, which were overwhelmingly supported the Criminal Alien Program. One read: "Please help deport all illegals. What part of illegal do they not understand?" Another: "Thank God some people are doing something about this invasion."
In the end, Irving is in the middle of a profound disagreement, between those who feel it's wrong to refer people to immigration authorities for nonviolent crimes and misdemeanors, and those who believe illegal immigration has gone too far -- that something has to be done.