Immigration is a hot-button issue in tomorrow's Lake Worth City Commission elections, in part due to the large number of undocumented residents in the city but also because of the recent flap over candidate Scott Maxwell's alleged ties to anti-immigration hate groups.
Tomorrow, Lake Worth residents go to the polls to vote for mayor and City Commission candidates in districts 1 and 3.
One subject of bitter debate has been Lake Worth's Mentoring Center, founded to help immigrants find work and learn English. Supporters argue that the center integrates immigrants into the community and provides needed services; detractors say the Mentoring Center, which cost around $400,000 to refurbish, has become a trash-strewn eyesore and a magnet for drunks.
We asked all four City Commission candidates to respond to three questions about policies for undocumented workers in Lake Worth. After the jump, excerpts from District 3 candidate and current Vice Mayor Jo-Ann Golden. We'll post responses from other candidates later today.
What is your position on the Lake Worth mentoring center?
I voted for it, I think it was a 4-to-1 vote. We had many, many undocumented workers on the streets; this was a viable solution, and it still is. We do need to deal with the fact that there's been destructive behavior at the center. I'd like to see more coordination with the groups involved; I'd like to see what grants are coming in and how they're used. The center is already working in collaboration with colleges, the health department, and people are learning English and taking skills classes. But most importantly, they are learning how to be residents of this city and to respect our ordinances.
What's the most pressing problem with illegal immigration in Lake Worth?
People need to understand the rules and regulations in the city and to abide by our ordinances. We have overcrowding caused by slum landlords -- unsafe, unhealthy situations. Our new city manager is working to bring in the best and the brightest from around Florida to help resolve the overcrowding issue, and we're working to develop a residential maintenance plan.
What specifically will you do to help integrate legal immigrants into the community?
Some people have been here for 15 years and are still undocumented because of the way our system works; they've been thwarted in their efforts to become legal. You see kids or husbands picked up and deported. We need to keep families together and to support the teaching of English and tutoring programs. The Community College is working closely with the Mentoring Center.
And there needs to be more dialogue between groups.
In 1993, I attended a forum on diversity held at the old casino on the beach: Haitians, Hispanics, Finnish people, Pioneers of Lake Worth all took turns speaking -- and it looked like we were really making progress on these issues. Then we started to backslide a little. You know, we've all come here because of some situation in our country -- we need to realize immigration issues aren't something that have suddenly sprung up out of nowhere. It may be a different population or a different color that we're talking about now, but immigration is part of our heritage.