Mi Casa Is Not Tu Casa

Protesters say illegals take our jobs, bring in leprosy, and, grrr, sell ice cream from bicycles

"To be honest, the families are fine," Mondun says. "It's the young single guys I'm worried about — drinking, fighting, doing whatever they want to do." Mondun fears potential sexual assaults. "Three girls live down the street. You see the guys check them out." She has encountered drunken men in the alley. "One of them asked me if I wanted a cigarette and a beer." She decidedly did not appreciate the gesture.

"We don't want them out; we just want everybody to abide by the laws," she says, frustrated. "People say it's cultural. Don't we have laws here?

"Jupiter was never like this," she laments. "It started out as a nice, quiet, peaceful place." Well, a nice quiet place for "rednecks," she adds. Those guys all moved to Jupiter Farms, though. "But you felt safe around them."

Charlie Elliott does not like the way his Jupiter neighborhood has changed.
C. Stiles
Charlie Elliott does not like the way his Jupiter neighborhood has changed.
C. Stiles

She sighs. "Some people have guns. I don't want to see guys shot."

Jupiter's town spokesperson Kate Moretto says that the whole conflict began when "there was slowing traffic because of the hiring practices going on. It was a large quality-of-life issue." The town passed an anti-solicitation ordinance that prevents people from soliciting jobs on the street. It effectively drives the day labor hiring process to El Sol.

"As you imagine, we can't single people out" to check their background, Moretto says. But "it is our policy to I.D. anyone who is arrested for a felony who they believe may not have documented status." The jails, she says, "have a procedure once that person is booked. Our police department doesn't necessarily get involved in that."

Charlie Elliott says policemen give him thumbs up but won't go on record against El Sol for fear of losing their jobs. El Sol Director Mike Richmond says the opposite: Just the other day, he had a retired cop stop in and write a check for $1,000.

Although it's not an official designation, the town is sometimes denigratingly called a "sanctuary city" — a place where illegal immigrants will not be rounded up by municipal officials. Local police have reached out to workers at El Sol by lecturing on topics like bicycle safety and how to avoid being victimized.

One former Jupiter policeman, John Banister, took illegal immigration enforcement into his own hands. "There is no official word on what to do with illegals," Banister says. During the years he was with the department — 2002 to 2007 — he might arrest suspects for theft or assault, but "we were told specifically we weren't allowed to pick them up just for being illegal." He suggests that the town was afraid of accusations of racial profiling or discrimination lawsuits. "So you would play in the gray."

Banister says that he found himself arresting the same guys five, seven, eight times. "Nine out of ten never had I.D. They gave us the wrong name. It would not be uncommon for a guy to have ten aliases."

When he encountered a chronic troublemaker, he would go to a private phone and contact Immigration and Customs Enforcement, the federal agency responsible for enforcing immigration laws. He would fax his arrest reports or probable-cause affidavits. In many cases, he says, an ICE agent would show up to take custody of the offender and take him to Krome Detention Center in Miami for a deportation hearing. Eventually, Banister says, he was ordered to stop the practice. He later left the department over a separate internal dispute and is now suing it.

Sgt. Pascarella disputes Banister's tale about turning in illegals and being reprimanded. He adds that if ICE asked for assistance, Jupiter police would offer "whatever we need to do to be in full compliance."

Simply having crossed the border illegally won't usually get an immigrant in trouble. Workers here illegally are generally not prosecuted unless they commit additional crimes. Barbara Gonzalez, a spokesperson for the ICE bureau in Miami, says federal agents don't barge in on suspected illegal alien gathering places and round people up without concrete evidence of wrongdoing. "We conduct target investigations based on intelligence and investigative leads," she says.

In the first week of April, the agency conducted a tricounty sweep that netted 332 suspects — 81 of those in Palm Beach County. Of the 332, 300 had already had due process and been ordered deported or placed under supervision. But they then flaunted the law and tried to hide. The other 32 had been arrested for criminal violations.

Jill Hanson, an attorney who volunteers at El Sol (the center was named partly in honor of her late husband, Sol Silverman, a champion of workers' rights) says that ICE officers "were pounding on doors at 4:30 a.m." and that they didn't have warrants.

Hanson believes groups like FLIMEN operate on "complete xenophobia" and disseminate a lot of dangerous misinformation. She notes that the leprosy fear was based on a debunked quote by television commentator Lou Dobbs. Statistics like the number of illegal alien drivers who kill people daily would be impossible to determine, since municipalities don't generally make that a category in their record-keeping. Hanson points to a website called wecanstopthehate.org as a good source for separating myth from fact.

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