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Archive for Saturday, June 23, 2007

Green Bay latest city to address immigration issue

June 23, 2007

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— The business of doing business in Green Bay, Wis., is changing this weekend with the enactment of a new law that says employers who knowingly hire undocumented workers can have their license to operate yanked by the city.

Proving that immigration reform is not simply a matter of congressional gridlock and talk radio shouting, Wisconsin's unofficial football capital, fueled by frustration, added its name this week to the growing number of local communities trying to address the issue that has Congress tied in political knots.

"Look, had Congress done their job we wouldn't have this (ordinance) in Green Bay," Mayor Jim Schmitt said Friday. "I think at this time it's the right thing to do, given what's not happening at the federal level."

The new law, which is due to take effect today, comes on the heels of similar local efforts around the country, such as in Waukegan, Ill., where the City Council on Monday authorized giving the chief of police permission to apply to Washington for authority to enforce federal immigration laws.

Many of these efforts have spawned lawsuits or questions about enforceability. A common byproduct of nearly all of these laws is friction with rapidly growing Hispanic communities, such as the one in Green Bay.

Luis Bello, the chief executive officer of La Uni-k Radio whose station targets Hispanic listeners, said most people in the Hispanic community "are pretty upset about it. They feel like they're being taken advantage of, doing jobs that most Americans aren't willing to do."

Bello added: "And now they feel targeted and afraid."

Matt Hollenbeck, chairman of the mayor's Hispanic Advisory Council, said the law giving the city authority to penalizes businesses is little more than a "political statement ... People are frustrated."

"There are people who believe some city official is going to be patrolling the streets to pick up undocumented workers. This doesn't do that," Hollenbeck said. "And there are a lot of folks who believe this will take care of the illegal immigration problem in Green Bay - or the impression of a problem. And it won't do that, either."

City Council members said they were responding to what their constituents want. Supporters of the law say the October 2005 arrest by federal customs and immigration officers of seven Hispanic gang members helps build the case for the new law.

At the Green Bay Area Chamber of Commerce, President Paul Jadin said there is a problem with illegal immigration. Jadin, who served for eight years as Green Bay's mayor, estimates that as many as half of the area's immigrants are undocumented.

"Given the demographics, we are certainly in need of that workforce," Jadin said.

But this is a matter for Washington - not local governments - to address, he added. "Without the cooperation with the federal government, this ordinance has no teeth.

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