Thursday, November 16, 2006

Let's hear it for Farmers Branch!

How about that courageous City Council in Farmers Branch, Texas?

Last Monday evening they voted unanimously to make English the official language of the town of 28,000 and to make it illegal for apartment owners to lease housing to those who could not prove that they were legal residents of the United States. The council also authorized the city's police department to seek special training so that the immigration status of persons in custody could be determined. In essence, Farmers Branch police officers will become immigration agents.

I say courageous because of what they didn't do.

Tim O'Hare, the City Council member who got the ball rolling on this aggressive "reform" movement, wanted his fellow council members to penalize employers who hire undocumented workers. He also wanted funding cut off for youth programs serving undocumented children.

I guess apartment owners--there are only 15 apartment properties in the town--are an easier, less politically volatile group than business owners who have grown accustomed to the hard working, low-cost labor force that lacks nothing but proper documentation and increased opportunity.

And, really now, only the Grinch who stole Christmas would have the gall to crush summer programs for little kids, don't you think?

There is so much to get at here, I truly don't know where to begin.

But, let me give it a shot!

First, I thought municipalities were about potholes, public safety, parks, libraries, economic development and civic pride? When did immigration control become a local issue in a small town like Farmers Branch?

I know, I know, the feds aren't doing their job; but wouldn't it be more productive to lobby the U. S. Congress than to punish a segment of the population inside the city limit signs of just one place?

And by the way, what message has the United States' enforcement policies been sending for well over a decade to persons south of our border who simply seek an opportunity to better life for themselves and their families? How about the message of the millions of employers who have hired these workers, even in Farmers Branch?

In my view, President Bush's comprehensive plan to deal with the millions of undocumented immigrants through a guest worker program seems on the mark. Securing the borders going forward with stepped up security and by negotiating with the Mexican government as a part of the plan also seems prudent.

But the notion that we can simply kick out 12 million people is ludicrous. Just here I remember the 500,000 people who march peacefully through Downtown Dallas on Palm Sunday last April.

The politicians who exploit this issue to arouse a fearful, uninformed public for their own political benefit should be ashamed. None of us should pay any attention to them either.

Second, much of what Mr. O'Hare and his colleagues claim is simply not true.

Let's be very, very clear: Undocumented residents of Farmers Branch do pay taxes.

Think about it.

No one escapes sales or property taxes.

Anyone who buys anything pays sales tax.

Anyone who pays rent contributes to the property tax bill paid by the property owner.

Then, there are Social Security taxes that millions of undocumented workers pay into the system annually using bogus Social Security numbers. At last count this amount equaled 10% of the Social Security reserve fund each year.

These are tax dollars from which these workers will never benefit.

As a matter of fact, these dollars will help fund my retirement, not theirs. The Social Security Administration has no interest whatsoever in seeing this flow of income shut off.

Third, what about the economic impact of undocumented workers in a place like Farmers Branch?

The service and construction industries draw large numbers of workers from this growing and readily available pool. According the Inter-American Development Bank, 90% of the wages earned in the U. S. by immigrants stays here. During 2006, immigrants will contribute over $50 billion to the Texas economy--again, dollars that stay here and circulate in our communities, including Farmers Branch.

What about the effect of immigrants on wages for U. S. citizens? According the studies, the impact is negligible. Those most affected are high school dropouts who see wages fall by about 8% because of the competition of immigrant labor, a reality that could be offset by staying in school.

Arguments about the cost of providing public education and healthcare come across as disingenuous to me. Working to assure the future of all of our children seems to be the kind of public, civic investment that ultimately benefits everyone, and for a long time to come.

The labor force is here and it counts in the millions. Making sure every child is learning and growing benefits the whole of our culture and all of our communities. The same can be said for adequate medical care for every resident.

Finally, call it what you will and argue with me all you like, we must face the reality of the racism, classism and xenophobia bound up in this extraordinary move.

The Farmers Branch City Council has taken action to ban an entire group of people. "Move to Garland, stay in Dallas, go to Denton, but understand us: you are not welcome here because of who you are and where you are from."

I find this action shocking and abhorrent.

But on second thought, maybe it's not so surprising, especially for a person like Mr. O'Hare. I'd bet you a dollar to a hole in a donut he has his eye on the Texas House of Representatives and beyond (see comments above about politicians who exploit the fears and prejudices of voters).
Ironically, O'Hare and three of his fellow council members attend the same large and influential church in Farmers Branch. So, I assume they consider themselves to be people of faith. I expect that the other two members of the council also attend church.

It makes me wonder if they are reading the Bibles they likely will carry with them into their houses of worship this Sunday. After all, the message of this book is really fairly clear on the subject of how to treat immigrants.

Just a few examples seem in order:

"Do not mistreat or oppress a foreigner; remember that you were foreigners in Egypt." Exodus 22:21.

"When an alien lives with you in your land, do not mistreat him. The alien living with you must be treated as one of your native-born. Love him as yourself, for you were aliens in Egypt. I am the Lord your God." Leviticus 19:33-34

"God's curse on anyone who deprives foreigners. . .of their rights." Deuteronomy 27:19

"The people of the land practice extortion and commit robbery; they oppress the poor and needy and mistreat the alien, denying them justice. . . .So I will pour out my wrath on them and consume them with fiery anger, bringing down on them all they have done, declares the Sovereign Lord." Ezekiel 22:29, 31

I'm thinking the Farmers Branch City Council needs to reconsider its action.

How about you?


Anonymous said...

Larry, What political party do you think Mr.O'Hare belongs to. I bet I could tell you. I am in the opposing party. and now that we are in majority the only way these little men can have their bigoted way is to bring theit nest closer to home. sure there is politics involved here and most politics are for self benifit without consideration of what the Bible tells us.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for this post, Larry. I am convinced that among the most important theological and ethical concepts is that of hospitality. It is the essence of the gospel and has drastic implications for how we live our lives. While I doubt the council in FB will reconsider their decision, this gives people of faith a prime opportunity to make their theology public.

Anonymous said...

I find it funny that everyone jumps in and uses the Bible about aliens, hospitality and taking care of others. All of which I agree with. However, at no time did I hear any mention of obeying the laws of the land or rendering to Caesar what is Caesars. We can not award people who's first act upon arrival is to break the law. I am all for legal immigration, but not supporting the illegal ones among us. Do it right!


Anonymous said...

Larry, call me the ultimate cynic. I don't know how these men can go to church week after week, read the Bible that they clam to follow, and take this action.

Every semester, I go through Dr. King's "I Have a Dream" speech with my students, and pull out the truth behind the poetic quote from Amos: "No, no, we are not satisfied, and we will not be satisfied until 'justice rolls down like waters, and righteousness like a mighty stream.'" Justice, in Amos and throughout scripture, is always tied to how we treat the poor and oppressed. In this same chapter in Amos are these words: "you trample on the poor..." And this while you build your "stone mansions."

If to "oppress" means: "to burden with cruel or unjust impositions or restraints; subject to a burdensome or harsh exercise of authority or power," it seems to me that this action by the City Council borders on oppression.

I wonder which passages of scripture these church-going council members would use to justify this action. As men of faith, how would they respond to Amos, and Dr. King, and the cries of the oppressed that they have now sent into a literal new journey of fear?

Problem: I realize my own inconsistency. I am generally bothered by bringing "religion" into the public square, and believe pretty deeply in the separation of church and state. But one need not go to scripture alone to find the abiding call to take care of the poor and needy.

Randy Mayeux, Dallas

Anonymous said...

Then go run for office!

julie said...

I know that anonymous comment signed by JC was not Jesus Christ.

Justin said...

the people that support these ridiculous anti immigrant laws are not conservatives. They are republicans/populists and they are despicable. True conservatives (such as myself) would be for laxing immigration laws so that more people can come here legally. That, and a guest worker program, are the only things that will end illegal immigration. Putting up a fence, and creating more laws that won't or can't be enforced won't do it.

Anonymous said...

I think they need to reconsider.

I just moved into the Metroplex area to be a minister, so I'm new to what is happening in Farmers Branch. I had to read the news article twice when I first heard about this, thinking, "There's no way that thinking people would take an action like this." I guess I was wrong.

jocelyn said...

I've been waiting to see what you would say about this. I knew that you would put words to my feelings much more knowledgeably and eloquently than I could. As a new Dallas resident, I hope we can find peaceful, productive, non-partisan ways to dialogue about this important issue. Thanks for starting the conversation.

Globalizati said...

"However, at no time did I hear any mention of obeying the laws of the land or rendering to Caesar what is Caesars. We can not award people who's first act upon arrival is to break the law."
Based on your interpretation of rendering unto Caesar, would you have helped a runaway slave? How about participating in the civil rights movement when it involved deliberately disobeying unjust laws? Does that rendering apply to basic, reasonable civic functions like taxes, or more broadly to supporting policies which are unjust, unfair, or oppressive? I think most here would agree that it is acceptable to disobey certain laws that are unjust.

Anonymous said...

I was a substitute in the Carrollton-Farmers Branch School District for a few months. I worked in just about every school they have. Several of those schools were 85% hispanic from my observation. I have no clue if any of the students were illegal (although quite a few talked about being from other countries), but I'm guessing if this new policy stays, it could drastically change the demographic of those schools.
Here are the hispanic percentages of a few FB schools i pulled with this tool .
Stark Elementary 75%
FB Elementary 85%
Field Middle 75%
Turner High 60%

Anonymous said...

Very well said. It is a shame that people such as Mr. Ohare, the Minutemen, FAIR, Lou Dobbs, and others have so much hate in their hearts.

Anonymous said...


Does that rendering apply to basic, reasonable civic functions like taxes, or more broadly to supporting policies which are unjust, unfair, or oppressive? I think most here would agree that it is acceptable to disobey certain laws that are unjust.

At no time did I say I dont want immigrants in the US. I do. We are all immigrants, but most of our ancestors stopped in Ellis Island and signed in...did it legally. Immigration is what makes us great! Dont you find it funny that while the international communtiy blasts us...they all want to come here. Having people from new lands, with new ideas is fabulous.

However, to danswer your "statemet" about slavery and civil still has to be done right. In the world of global travel, commerce and ,yes, even terrorism. We have to be vigilant and knowledgeable about what and who is crossing our borders. To protect ALL of us (including the immigrants).


JC (Jarod)

Anonymous said...

We've had the same thing here in New Jersey, in Riverside. I've heard the economic impact of Brazilians and Hispanics leaving has been enormous.

People in the United States illegally are not criminals, at least not under the present laws. It is an administrative issue, not a criminal act, to be in the U.S. without proper authorization.

It saddens me deeply when I see the descendants of immigrants engaging in xenophobia. I attend a Brazilian church and know personally that these people are only looking for a better life for themselves and their children. Thank God that America is still a place where freedom and prosperity can be found by those willing to work. I've lived in Brazil and know that such opportunity does not exist there, mostly due to chronic centralism and unquestioned collectivism.

Jeff said...

Brett Keller --

Does your reasoning apply to abortion? Should we break the law to protect unborn children from being murdered? Or should we just reclassify them and dehumanize them in order to make the slaughter more socially acceptable?

Jeremy Gregg said...

Some interesting stats from Sodexho Foundation:

Hunger and the Recent Elections
Recent exit polls conducted on November 7, 2006 by McLaughlin & Associates, a national survey research and strategic services company, indicated that Americans are very concerned about hunger and poverty. Among the findings of the poll:

- Three-in-five midterm voters (61%) say that political candidates’ focus on hunger and poverty issues during the 2006 election was inadequate.

- Three quarters of the midterm electorate (73%) approve of an expanded effort to reduce hunger, regardless of the increase in federal expenditure.

- Two-thirds of midterm voters (65%) say that a candidate’s stand on hunger and poverty issues was “important” to how they cast their votes this year .

- By a 4-1 margin (80%), midterm voters say that a presidential contender’s stand on hunger and poverty issues is important to how they’ll vote in the 2008 presidential election.

Globalizati said...

I think on all subjects of civil disobedience we should consider questions of morality, justice, and utilitarian concerns regarding effectivness.

In other words, is your action just, and will it have an effect? If you believe all forms of abortion are murder, then you may be morally justified in doing many things to stop it (many would stipulate outside of committing murder yourself), but that does not mean doing so will be the wisest or most effective course of action (i.e., the most likely course of action to actually reduce the injustice). What laws do you plan to break to stem the tide for abortion? Bombing abortion clinics? A more effective measure might be to work with women likely to have abortions, developed relationships with them, and very publicly announce your willingness to adopt their babies and give them a loving home. Likewise, if you believe homosexuality is immoral, what is the best course of action you can take to make that immoral behavior less frequent?

With the particular issue at hand, I would assert that assisting an alien in need is both a moral requirement and an expedient action from a utilitarian consideration, as you would be able to deliver the needed relief. In other words, aiding an alien is a case of a moral imperative, and a clear course of action that fulfills it. On abortion you have a clear moral imperative as well (don't commit murder), but the ways to prevent it are less clear.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for being the voice of reason

Anonymous said...

I applaud Farmers Branch for doing what the Federal Government should be doing and that is closing our borders to those who come in defiance of express laws that are put in place to regulate overburdoning this country.

If you think that deporting 12 to 20 million illegals in this country is impossible think again. President Fox did it, why can't we?

Before you jump all over me and call me racist, let me state for the record that I am all for Legal Immigration. There is a proper way to come here. I am not for allowing someone to get away with blatantly breaking our laws and walking away "scot free" for committing Identity Theft; a crime that you and I, the average AMERICAN CITIZEN would be sitting in prison for, FEDERAL PRISON AT THAT!

I fully intend to petition my town to follow in the footsteps of all the other small towns who have absolutely had enough!


Anonymous said...

New FBI Statistics on Crimes Committed by Illegal Aliens
Posted by: "Marci" tymetobattle2
Mon Nov 13, 2006 4:18 pm (PST)
New FBI Statistics on Crimes Committed by Illegal Aliens Sunday 12 November 2006, by admin

After reading these statistics, I could cry. We have an invasion and no one seems to care. Worse, the "McKennedy" Bill (McCain and Kennedy) would give legal status to these law breakers. If we want to control murder, rape and vicious crimes, we may not need Three Strikes, what we need is to find and deport the criminals who are here as illegal aliens. The FBI already has a list of sexual predators here illegally. In May they, along with the Salinas, California police picked up 40 of them. Why not pick up the thousands of sexual predators that the FBI know are here in this county illegally?
Now is the time for crime groups, police and law enforcement groups to stop playing politics, stop endorsing candidates, and to start enforcing the law. Our public officials must act now, the citizens of Simi Valley, Ventura County, of California and of the nation are not safe. Read this FBI/ statistics and weep for the victims of our government not enforcing the laws.
These statistics were published at
Write your thoughts directly on the web site for all to see and discuss. Pass this along to your friends, family and especially to law enforcement and elected officials. Ask them why they are not doing more to protect our community from the criminal element of the illegal aliens. Steve Frank
INS/FBI Statistical Report on Undocumented Immigrants
2006 (First Quarter) INS/FBI Statistical Report on Undocumented Immigrants
CRIME STATISTICS 95% of warrants for murder in Los Angeles are for illegal aliens.
83% of warrants for murder in Phoenix are for illegal aliens.
86% of warrants for murder in Albuquerque are for illegal aliens.
75% of those on the most wanted list in Los Angeles, Phoenix and Albuquerque are illegal aliens.
24.9% of all inmates in California detention centers are Mexican nationals here illegally
40.1% of all inmates in Arizona detention centers are Mexican nationals here illegally
48.2% of all inmates in New Mexico detention centers are Mexican nationals here illegally
29% (630,000) convicted illegal alien felons fill our state and federal prisons at a cost of $1.6 billion annually
53% plus of all investigated burglaries reported in California, New Mexico, Nevada, Arizona and Texas are perpetrated by illegal aliens.
50% plus of all gang members in Los Angeles are illegal aliens from south of the border.
71% plus of all apprehended cars stolen in 2005 in Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, Nevada and California were stolen by Illegal aliens or “transport coyotes".
47% of cited/stopped drivers in California have no license, no insurance and no registration for the vehicle. Of that 47%, 92% are illegal aliens.
63% of cited/stopped drivers in Arizona have no license, no insurance and no registration for the vehicle. Of that 63%, 97% are illegal aliens
66% of cited/stopped drivers in New Mexico have no license, no insurance and no registration for the vehicle. Of that 66% 98% are illegal aliens.
BIRTH STATISTICS 380,000 plus “anchor babies” were born in the U.S. in 2005 to illegal alien parents, making 380,000 babies automatically U.S.citizens.
97.2% of all costs incurred from those births were paid by the American taxpayers.
66% plus of all births in California are to illegal alien Mexicans on Medi-Cal whose births were paid for by taxpayers

Globalizati said...

The United States Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) ceased to exist in 2003 when it was subsumed into the Department of Homeland Security. So how exactly did they put out stats in 2006?

The webpages you pulled those quotes from clearly state that they were provided by readers or received in emails. Those are some very strong claims, and I hope that you can find some better evidence to back them up. I've searched for a few minutes and can't find any actual sources for this material. Care to do the research you should have before posting this trash?

"85% OF CHILD PREDATORS IN THE U.S. NOW ARE ILLEGALS" That claim is so ridiculous that it scares me that you would believe it. Even if there were 30 million illegal immigrants in the U.S., that would still be 10% of the population. Please think before you post, and do your research too.

Larry James said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Larry James said...

Brett, thank you for your post. When I receive such biased responses as some above your comment, I am tempted to remove them. But I seldom do. The comments made by a couple of my angry, ill-informed readers need to stay so that others can see the nature of the debate and the level of hatred. What you point out is true. The statistics you respond to are fictional, sad and make my point regarding the mindset behind the actions of folks like the FB City Council.

IBreakCellPhones said...

Should there be any limit on immigration at all? Should we just open up the borders to anyone who wants to come?

What limits would you put on immigration? Criminals? Those with communicable diseases? Any numbers?

What would happen if the rest of the world's population somehow managed to show up in the Rio Grande Valley tomorrow? What would be some of the consequences? Would that be a good thing? Bad thing?

Could our society remain recognizable if this were to happen? Could we maintain the level of government services that we have come to expect? Would our economy be able to sustain itself with this massive increase in population? What would happen to wages? To median income?

Do you think that these are legitimate questions to ask when setting immigration policy?

Anonymous said...

"Our public officials must act now, the citizens of Simi Valley, Ventura County, of California and of the nation are not safe."

You'll see here that Simi Valley is ranked 17th safest city in the COUNTRY. And neighboring Thousand Oaks is ranked 11th. Now, in years past, granted, Simi Valley has been in the top 10. But, to say it is not safe. . .and it still be in the top 20 safest in the country is rediculous.
(I live right by thousand oaks and not too far from Simi.)

Anonymous said...

"Our public officials must act now, the citizens of Simi Valley, Ventura County, of California and of the nation are not safe."

You'll see here that Simi Valley is ranked 17th safest city in the COUNTRY. And neighboring Thousand Oaks is ranked 11th. Now, in years past, granted, Simi Valley has been in the top 10. But, to say it is not safe. . .and it still be in the top 20 safest in the country is rediculous.
(I live right by thousand oaks and not too far from Simi.)

Justin said...

I hate it when the worst in people is confirmed. You have suspiscions, and you hope people are better then you think, and then someone comes and says that 85% of child predators are illegals. Wow.

IBreakCellPhones said...


Relative safety to other parts of the country is not the appropriate statistic to look at.

If crime rises 10% nationwide, but only 9% where you live, are you safer?

(Note: I don't know the actual crime statistics for SoCal, just pulling numbers out of the air.)

Anonymous said...

Migrants transform Cactus

Immigrants are town’s lifeblood, but most are there illegally

10:34 AM CST on Friday, November 17, 2006

Editor's note: This story will appear in the Sunday, November 19 edition of The Dallas Morning News.

CACTUS, Texas — He’s known in this Panhandle outpost by an unofficial, yet majestic title: El presidente de Cactus.

His two-story, Spanish villa — looking over blocks of town-center shanties — is often called “the White House.” His portfolio includes the town’s only grocery and laundry, at least 18 rental properties and a 575-acre ranch nearby.

It was little more than 30 years ago that Luis Aguilar slipped into this country from Mexico, eventually using a fake name, license and Social Security card to land a job at this town’s sprawling beef packing plant. A decade later, he was in the right place at the right time when federal immigration reform granted him amnesty and put him on the path to citizenship.

Now, as mayor and arguably the most affluent — and influential — resident in town, he not only rents rooms and sells groceries to a new generation of illegal immigrants, but he also is paid to place them in jobs.

“I’m working like those guys are working,” said the native from the state of Chihuahua. “I am helping them make money for their families. I worked just like that.”

An hour’s drive north of Amarillo, Cactus has an official population of 2,538. But realistically, it’s closer to 5,000, and officials here estimate that three of every four residents are illegal immigrants, drawn by work in feedlots or the $11-plus hourly wages at the Swift & Co. plant.

Cactus doesn’t register on most U.S. maps, but for some in Mexico and Guatemala who want a better life, it has become a destination town. Their presence has transformed the community, creating national-size problems for its small-town leaders.

As America debates immigration policy in often bipolar terms — amnesty or deportation — Cactus is living the fuzzy, everyday reality of porous borders and the competing interests behind one of the biggest demographic shifts in U.S. history: Impoverished millions eager for a better life, industries ready to snap up cheap labor, federal officials impotent to act and local residents left to deal with the resulting troubles.

“We need federal help,” Cactus City Manager Jeffrey Jenkins said. “Not knowing the American laws causes a lot of complications that the local government should not have to deal with.” Among those complications:

•Thieves who prey on immigrant workers carrying large sums of cash because banks will not come here;

•Fraudulent IDs that make solving crimes by and against immigrants difficult;

•Mobile homes, often crowded with more than one family, that sprout seemingly overnight in flagrant disregard of zoning laws;

•Drugs and prostitution;

•And a public school, lacking enough bilingual instructors, that resorts to total English immersion to educate the nearly 77 percent of students who speak little or no English.

The problems of illegal immigration are not unique to Cactus. Across America — especially in rural areas where workers are sorely needed for difficult, often-dangerous, low-skill jobs — undocumented, south-of-the-border immigrants are rushing in.

But Cactus’ challenges are magnified because of the town’s size and remote location.

Officials here teeter on a political high wire: They know the Swift plant — the town’s lifeblood and the county’s second-biggest taxpayer — attracts illegal immigrants by the thousands.

But they fear that increased federal and state scrutiny could jeopardize both plant and town, especially if it leads to the roundup and deportation of scores of illegal workers.

For their part, Swift officials insist they do all they legally can to verify the authenticity of their employees’ documents, even participating voluntarily in a federal program aimed at spotting fraudulent use of Social Security numbers.

But that seems little deterrent.

“I know there are hundreds of illegals working at Swift, I see them every day,” said one resident who works for a Swift contractor and agreed to speak only on condition of anonymity. “They are from Guatemala and Mexico. Hundreds of them have false documents that allow them to work there.”

Building a life

Today’s Cactus probably isn’t exactly what local leaders envisioned in 1972 when they heralded the beef plant’s opening as the town’s salvation.

In the beginning, its workforce was mostly local. But it didn’t take long for immigrant workers to arrive — shoving aside the locals. Laotians became the dominant employee group … only to be supplanted by Mexicans … who are slowly, but steadily, being replaced by Guatemalans.

Mayor Aguilar, for one, slipped into the country near Tijuana, Mexico, on foot.

His goal? “A better life.”

It was a treacherous, frightening journey from his home in Chihuahua: “When I cross the border, I think it gonna be my last one. I almost freeze to death.”

An articulate man in his native language, Mr. Aguilar speaks a broken English learned on the job.

He spent three years working in a restaurant in Battle Mountain, Nev. In 1976, at the urging of a relative, he journeyed to the Texas Panhandle with his 18-year-old wife, Luz, and their infant daughter, Rosa. He called himself Amador Rivas. And he had the documents — albeit, bogus — to prove it.

In Cactus, he was the stereotypically hard-working, invisible immigrant. Soon after arriving, the couple had their second child, Eva. And he worked 12- to 18-hour days in the packing plant’s shipping department for $10 an hour — “good money back then,” as he put it.

With his job, he was able to provide for his growing family, send money home to Mexico and save a little.

Later, he was promoted to director of shipping and receiving, enabling him to buy an apartment building. For seven years, he and his family occupied two of the four units and rented the rest.

Then, in 1986, he received an unexpected gift: He was one of 2.7 million illegal immigrants awarded amnesty by President Ronald Reagan under the Immigration Reform and Control Act.

With his green card in hand, Mr. Aguilar escaped the oft-murky world of an illegal immigrant and shed his Amador Rivas alias. He could once again be Luis Aguilar. And he soon made a name for himself as a successful businessman, buying the Cactus Laundromat and Cactus Grocery in 1988.

Using $11,000 he’d saved from his job at Swift — and borrowing the rest — he bought the store from former Cactus Mayor Leon Graham after a fire devastated much of the structure.

“I asked my brother-in-law,” he said. “He loaned me $300. My cousin loaned me $300. So I got all together about $21,000. … And I started building.”

Over time, he became a force in town — and served as a beacon for other south-of-the-border immigrants pursuing the American dream.

His Spanish-style home with its arched doorways and light-colored stucco walls dominates the center of town, commanding respect from those dwelling in the shanty trailer homes that surround it.

“The people of Cactus built my home for me,” he said.

He is open about his role in helping undocumented immigrants who follow his path.

“I work as the middle man for places around the Panhandle,” said Mr. Aguilar, 50. “They [feedlots] pay me, and I pay the guys. I keep their timecards here in the store. I am hired to find them.”

Climate for crime

Cactus today seems less like a Panhandle burg than a colonia — magically airlifted 600 miles north from the border and dropped into the heart of what once was the Anglo-dominated, farm and ranch South Plains.

Decaying World War II-era barracks each bunk as many as a half-dozen Swift & Co. workers whose families were left back home. Most yards are dirt, weeds and gravel.

There are few flowers and even less grass; a soccer field on the west side of town with homemade goal posts; one park with playground equipment and a basketball court; and three times as many places to get an adult beverage as in the much larger, nearby county seat, Dumas.

“Alcohol-related problems are paramount [and] … a lot of cocaine,” says Cactus Police Chief Tim Turley.

“But if I had to say what we run across most is fraudulent use of ID,” he added. “That is by far and above the number one most encountered incident.”

Cultures collide on a variety of issues: from education to sex.

Some of the youngest students from newly arrived families must be instructed, for example, on indoor plumbing and proper hygiene.

Other immigrants are bewildered when advised that it is not only socially unacceptable but illegal for men in their 20s to have sex with young teenage girls.

Zoning regulations are difficult to enforce.

“Folks don’t believe you should be able to tell them what to do and where to put things,” said Mr. Jenkins, the city manager. “And they’ll bring in trailers that the walls are falling in and they’ll want to set ’em up and rent ’em to somebody.

“On the reverse end of it, you get the renters … they think that if they report it or something, they’re going to be deported . … So they’re getting taken advantage of by the landlords in some places.”

Unlicensed food stands pop up all over town — a constant headache for officials.

“The mobile stands are hard to track down because they could be there on Saturday night and then they disappear,” said Mr. Jenkins. “The state only has one food officer for this area. … [It] puts a burden on the local government to raise taxes, and it could make someone sick.”

All contribute to a climate where criminal mischief can flourish — but uncovering it and prosecuting it are often difficult, if not impossible.

According to police, some Mexicans — worried they could lose their jobs to newly arrived immigrants — have taken to beating, robbing and terrorizing Guatemalans, who are reluctant to report the crimes because they fear they could be deported.

After a string of robberies — and one vicious attack, in particular, Mr. Turley ordered his deputies to document anyone walking the streets after midnight. Workers leaving the plant after the midnight shift change were the primary targets, police said.

“I went and bought a Polaroid camera … and I said from now, if you see an individual on foot after midnight, they get stopped, photographed and ID’d,” Chief Turley said. “Find out where they live. Bar none. Doesn’t matter who it is.”

“I tell the Guatemalans, ‘I am not unsympathetic to them. I am not immigration.’ I say, ‘We know you are an illegal alien.’.”

Chief Turley has learned about the Guatemalan culture, can’t speak Quiche but can certainly pronounce it. Guatemalans who end up in Cactus come from a war-torn region, he said, where the arrival of police forces rarely equaled public safety.

So he’s told his officers to never order a Guatemalan down on his knees.

“If you tell them to get on their knees, they think they are going to get shot in the head,” Mr. Turley says. “You tell them to sit down.”

Police recently investigated allegations that at least two Swift workers were extorting as much as $800 from each prospective employee in exchange for “fixing” document problems.

In the midst of the investigation, local police said, two human resources workers were fired.

A union official insisted the dismissals had nothing to do with “immigration.” A company spokesman declined to discuss the matter, writing in an e-mail that “it is irresponsible for me to comment on rumors and innuendo.”

The fired employees could not be reached for comment. No one answered the door at one former worker’s residence. At another, a balding man with a goatee said the ex-employee would not speak to a reporter.

“She is no longer employed there. She has nothing to say,” he said, referring questions “to the [Swift] corporate office.”

After the firings, police dropped the investigation.

Smooth operation

Modern-day Cactus was built on beef. Swift’s sprawling complex stands out on the west side of U.S. Highway 287. The divided four-lane highway — a main artery linking Dallas-Fort Worth to Denver — separates the plant from most of the town’s residential areas, though neighborhoods just south of the facility are expanding rapidly.

Surrounded by a chain-link fence topped with barbed wire, the plant operates around the clock, processing about 5,300 animals daily, according to filings with the Securities & Exchange Commission.

Two eight-hour shifts — one beginning about 6 a.m., the other about 3 p.m. — process the beef.

A third, overnight shift — staffed by a subcontractor — cleans and readies the plant for the next day.

Last summer, Swift workers were on a six-day-a-week schedule, heeding America’s increased demand for beef during outdoor grilling season.

State and federal agencies report little evidence of problems at the plant, including worker safety issues.

Casey Williams, a leader in the United Food and Commercial Workers Local 540, said union officials and employee safety monitors meet with the company weekly to discuss plant safety.

“We hardly get any calls to go to Swift for injuries,” said Theron Park, the county hospital administrator. “My impression is they have a pretty comprehensive safety program.”

Still, it’s difficult to know precisely what goes on inside the plant.

Swift declined requests for interviews with its Cactus chief and to visit the facility. And most workers don’t want to be noticed, much less interviewed, for fear of losing their jobs or being deported.

“It’s a scary thing to be undocumented,” said Lydia Hernandez, an immigration counselor at Catholic Family Services Inc. in Amarillo, “because you don’t know who’s your friend.”

Those agreeing to speak describe difficult conditions.

One man employed by a plant contractor describes an almost feudal existence endured by many illegal immigrant workers.

“They are overworked,” said the man, who agreed to speak only on condition of anonymity. “I see it every day. They are working them like crazy.”

Another longtime employee said plant managers know that not all workers are in the country legally.

“About a month ago, or so, when immigration was around …we were inside [the plant] working, and all the green helmets and the managers warned everyone: ‘If you don’t have your papers, don’t come out, because immigration is here,’.” the worker said.

“That time, it was convenient for them to protect the people and warn them about the trap waiting for them outside. … They told everyone that they could stay if they wanted or they could go. But immigration was out there.”

Swift spokesman Sean McHugh said he couldn’t find evidence of that incident.

Such an action by a Swift manager “would be viewed as a serious breach of our integrity,” he said. “We would take appropriate action against that individual.

“We’ve got a great track record of cooperating fully with law enforcement,” he said.

Swift’s corporate officials say they do all they can legally to verify the authenticity of documents.

“If it happens 12 times a year, that’s probably the most,” said Doug Schult, Swift’s Greeley, Colo.-based vice president for human resources, field operations and employee relations.

Town officials routinely praise Swift’s efforts to ensure the legitimacy of its workers.

“They’re very cooperative in these matters,” Chief Turley said.

Even so, the chief said, he “frequently” fields telephone inquiries from identity theft victims who learn their names, Social Security numbers, birth dates and places were co-opted by workers at the beef plant.

Whether from Connecticut or California, he said, the calls typically begin the same way:

“Where in the hell is Cactus, Texas?”

Difficult work

More than 20 years ago, the beef packing industry was filled with mostly white American workers, earning more than $20 an hour.

Now, studies show, the plants are dominated by Latino immigrants, most paid less than $12 an hour.

Duke Millard, who managed the Cactus plant from the time it was built in 1972 until his retirement in 1999, said it always had a “multiracial” workforce, from its initial 400 or so employees to the 2,700 or so today.

“I never thought of it as an immigrant workforce,” he said.

Mr. Williams, who negotiated the Cactus contract for the union, said the plant still hires its share of Anglos, but “they usually don’t last.”

One reason: “It is one of the hardest jobs I’ve ever done in my life,” said Mr. Williams, who worked in three West Texas packing houses. “It’s so physically demanding.”

Nothing, he said, seems to spur college enrollment quite like a recent high school graduate spending a few months working in one of the dozen or so plants scattered across what is known as Packing House Alley — stretching from the South Plains into the Oklahoma Panhandle, southwest Kansas and southeastern Colorado.

But Mr. Jenkins, the city manager, isn’t convinced.

“It’s definitely a broken system,” he said, creating “all kinds of problems” for local government.

It’s not unheard of, authorities said, to find teenagers working at the plant — they lie about their ages to get hired — when, by law, they are supposed to be in school.

Other young people are drawn to Cactus but never land work.

Consider the case of “Spot,” a young man picked up by Cactus police because he abused the 911 emergency phone system. He called — then hung up — more than 40 times over several days, unable to communicate in anything but his native Guatemalan dialect.

Like a lost puppy, officers took him in: feeding him, finding him places to stay, spending time with him, eventually working to teach him English and Spanish.

What they learned, Chief Turley said, was heartbreaking: “Through broken Spanish, they were able to determine that he was not an 18-year-old named Carlos Torres — as they originally believed — but a 16-year-old named Gaspar Ambrosio Quixan.

“He wanted to go back to Guatemala because he didn’t have enough money to buy fake documentation in order to obtain employment” at Swift.

The chief said he couldn’t find any government agency that would help — federal agents declined because Gaspar was a juvenile, state officials because he was an illegal immigrant.

One day, Gaspar vanished.

Cactus police have no idea what happened to him.

Spreading the word

Mr. Millard, who managed the plant for five companies over its first 27 years, said he never advertised south of the border for workers — nor did he hire so-called “brokers” to seek out potential employees.

Swift’s Mr. Schult said some companies still engage in what he described as “mobile recruiting,” but his does not because “all that does is increase the turnover. It’s a revolving door.”

So how do workers from Mexico and Guatemala end up in Cactus?

“It’s a word-of-mouth thing,” said Ms. Hernandez of Catholic Family Services. “Someone comes in to work here; they’ve got friends at home, they tell them about it. “They don’t just come in because it’s Cactus. Somebody has to bring them in.”

The union’s Mr. Williams said he gets angry when he hears immigrant workers depicted primarily as law-breakers sponging off American taxpayers.

“A lot of them end up in these industries where no one else will work,” he said, adding that all pay income and Social Security taxes, just like all workers.

Social Security earnings numbers that didn’t match names in the government’s database was nearly $520 billion as of 2003, the last year for which government data is available. Three-fourths of that amount came in during 1990-2003.

Social Security taxes paid under these mismatches have increased: In 2001, about $7 billion in taxes was paid on nearly $58 billion in earnings, according to the agency’s Dallas office.

Some believe that much of the money comes from undocumented workers who don’t attempt to claim the funds because they are afraid of being caught.

Despite the difficulty of the work — its repetitiveness, its physical demands, its blood and guts — Mr. Williams said he understands why some would risk everything to land a job in a place like Cactus, where workers earn the equivalent of $20 to $25 an hour, factoring in such benefits as health care.

“If I lived in Guatemala and couldn’t get a job and had a wife and family,” he said, “I’d try it, too.”

‘Drink and work’

For many of the workers, there is a simple rhythm to Cactus life: Work long hours. Cruise Center Drive. Drink beer.

Start over.

The mayor and Cactus police Sgt. Stewart Moss don’t seem to agree on much. But they both recognize this pattern.

“For fun … [we] really don’t have much fun here,” Mr. Aguilar said. “Just work.”

“Drink,” added Sgt. Moss.

“Drink and work,” agreed Mr. Aguilar.

The cruising along Center Drive is straight out of American Graffiti . Cars and trucks inch along in a bumper-to-bumper processional. They hope to see and be seen.

“That’s the only fun they got,” Mr. Aguilar said. “If you got stopped just for that … fun is over.”

“Don’t you get tired of cleaning the beer bottles out from in front of the Laundromat?” Sgt. Moss asked.

“Not at all,” the mayor replied. “I sell it. So what the hell?”

When the police get involved, cultures clash.

“We’ll catch somebody doing something they’re not supposed to be doing … and they’ll immediately: ‘Oh, I’m friends with Luis [Aguilar],” Sgt. Moss said. “So what? That does not excuse you from doing what you did. And I’m sure they’ve used their one phone call down at the jail to call you.”

Mr. Aguilar: “One o’clock in the morning, 2 o’clock in the morning: ‘Luis, the cop stopped me… and I’m over here.’.”

Sgt. Moss: “But did they tell you why they were stopped?”

Mr. Aguilar: “No. … They just tell me, ‘Hey, can you do something for me?’ And I can’t do nothing about it. That’s all I can tell them.”

He may be revered as El presidente de Cactus by some, but Mr. Aguilar feels others here are aligned against him. They view the former illegal immigrant with suspicion, depicting him — mostly in private — as a power-hungry mayor who thinks he is operating a Mexican-style fiefdom.

“You know what all my problem is with the city,” he said. “I used to be illegal alien out there. When I get the mayor … some people say, ‘What the hell we gonna do with the used-to-be wetback guy sittin’ over here as the mayor?’

“All the City Council is against me. I guess [they] don’t like my ideas. It’s against me. You know, I live in Cactus for 30 years. I care [about] Cactus. I want to do something good for Cactus.”

Larry James said...

Justin, read all of the posts. The stats in some of these posts are bogus.

Anonymous said...

I guess technically to have absolutely NO crime would be the only way to call a city safe. Since the rankings apply to the percentage of violent crime per 100,000 residents, I'd guess there would be no cities that would qualify as safe. So, lets figure our which ones are the safEST. To do that I guess you'd have to compare one city to another.
Here are the latest crime figures for Simi. (2005 numbers won't be released until December)
A city with as little violent crime as Simi can fluctuate in percentages by one or two murders, when only 3 are reported in 2004. Chances are, the majority of people in Simi feel very safe even if there was one more murder in 2005. (That would be a 33% increase)So to answer your question, if Simi crime increased by 9%, I don't think the average citizen would know the difference, they'd say they felt safe.

Justin said...


I know the numbers are bogus. That was the point I was making (albeit not well apparently). I was saying that I was suspicious about people who are so anti illegal immigration being racially motivated, and then my suspicions were confirmed by the lame brain who posted those stats.

IBreakCellPhones said...


I think you misunderstood me.

Of course, we can rate cities against each other and call one city safer than another city. But if I read your original comment correctly, the leaders of Simi Valley were not comparing Simi Valley to other cities, but comparing the past to the present. Compared to the rest of the country, it looks like Simi Valley and Thousand Oaks are safe to live in. The question that arises from the quote, though, is not "Are we safer than other cities," but "Are we as safe as we were in the past?"

Larry James said...

Justin, sorry! I can "see" and "hear" your tone now! This medium is hard at times, huh? That is why we just have to keep talking to each other in honesty and love!

Anonymous said...

Gotcha, breakcellphones.

I still think to claim that Simi is not safe (even if crime increased by 9%) is like a person who is worth 30 million dollars saying they are not rich when their net worth drops to 28 million dollars. Yes, they are still "rich". (or if a "poor" person went from having $5 to $8.50 = they'd still think they were poor)
if the original statement from the article posted said "we're not as safe as we used to be" granted that could be justified. But not a blanket statement of "not safe".
And maybe the original post meant, "not excluded from illegals moving into our neighborhoods." Now that could be a justified statement.
But, since i don't live in Simi,I'll stop arguing for its safety and start to spread the word that its going down hill.

Anonymous said...


Anonymous said...

Mr. James,

I hope you would give this as much attention as you did when the story first broke.


Churches aim to ease tension in Farmers Branch

Congregations unite for bilingual services

11:08 PM CST on Sunday, November 19, 2006

By HOLLY YAN / The Dallas Morning News

In his church's first Sunday evening service since the Farmers Branch City Council approved measures cracking down on illegal immigrants, Chris Seidman saw an opportunity.

So the senior pastor at Farmers Branch Church of Christ collaborated with Pastor Vince Gonzales at the mostly Hispanic North Dallas Family Church to unify their congregations and community.

About 100 people attended the first of the Church of Christ's several planned bilingual services, with members of each church blended in the pews.

"There's tension in the community, but whenever there's tension ... there's an opportunity for God to work," Mr. Gonzales said.

The tension follows a vote at the Nov. 13 City Council meeting to make English the city's official language and require apartment renters in Farmers Branch to show proof of citizenship or residency.

Three council members – including Tim O'Hare, who put the city in the national spotlight by suggesting local ordinances – attend Farmers Branch Church of Christ, according to the church's community minister.

"Our leaders in our city have sought our prayers. They know they need our wisdom," the community minister, Eddy Ketchersid, told the Sunday audience.

In addition, the council unanimously agreed to let police apply to participate in a federal program that would enable them to check the residency status of suspects in custody and initiate deportation proceedings in certain cases.

Some of those attending the service Sunday evening were torn on the issue.

"Because I lived in Mexico and because I'm an American, I see both perspectives," said Gabriella Green, who taught English during a one-year mission in Mexico. "Accepting another language and another culture is not the same as being against the law."

On the other hand, she said, "If I go to Germany, they're going to expect me to speak German, and if I go to Japan, they're going to expect me to speak Japanese."

Jose Molina, a member of the North Dallas Family Church, laughed when asked what he thought about the new measures.

"We know this country as a country that gives," said Mr. Molina, of Farmers Branch, who said he came to the U.S. illegally but has since become a citizen. "Now you see it as a group of people against the ones who are not lucky, the ones who do not have the privilege to be legal in this country."

On Friday, the League of United Latin American Citizens opened a new chapter in Farmers Branch, drawing about 15 members.

"A LULAC chapter hadn't been created before in this area, because people sometimes think they don't need it, but then after things happen, they realize they need support," said Héctor Flores, former LULAC national president.

One of the new chapter's tasks will be to fight the ordinances.

"People are very confused; they are afraid and think they have to leave their homes. But the worst thing to do is leave," said Elizabeth Villafranca, owner of Cuquitas Restaurant in Farmers Branch and president of the new LULAC chapter.

Mr. Seidman said he doesn't know enough about the issue to take a firm stance personally. But he said the controversy won't prevent his church from reaching out to everyone.

"We're a church that accepts everybody where they are regardless of their status, whether they're city officials or they have yet to be citizens," he said.

Staff writer Stella Chavez and Al Día staff writer Isabel C. Morales contributed to this report.

When EF Talks said...

Hi Larry:

Hope you are doing well, it's been a while since I've been down your way. Things are well for us at Northaven Church.

I know it's been a while since the post I'm commenting on, and it may not be that anyone notices this comment, but I really appreciate this blog entry.

What consistently frustrates me about the entire immigration debate is that, in my opinion, it starts from a a completly faulty initial assumption...that immigrants are costing American society millions, and contributing nothing. In fact, the media itself seems to consistently buy into this faulty assumption.

Thanks pointing out that inconsistency here.

In fact, I also blogged about this on my personal blog, about the same time you wrote this entry. So, check it out, because apparently brilliant minds DO think alike.

Check out my blog that makes about the same point here.

Hope to see you soon,

Eric Folkerth

Anonymous said...

Lets get some facts straight,
Calling an illegal alien an undocumented immigrant is like calling a burglar an uninvited house guest.

The world is a dangerous place, not because of those who do evil, but because of those who look on and do nothing - Albert Einstein

If the federal government wont do their job then let the local level do it for them as it is draining our economy and social services.

Some of you apparently don’t get it, you are preaching 1 side of the story and apparently are not capable of reasoning or weighing out the pros and cons.

First of all they are illegal, they entered the country illegally and many of them stole identities to work in this country once they got here. Stolen identities is a huge problem and the victims spend hundreds of hours trying to clear their names and often are negatively affected with their credit for several years which is an additional cost to them in the form of higher interest when they seek loans.

Below are some additional interesting fact points that you apparently don’t know or failed to post.

Posted in numerous news paper articles - Illegal Aliens receiving better health care than American Citizens, A recent patient survey indicated that 70 percent of the women who gave birth at Parkland in the first three months of 2006 were illegal immigrants.

WASHINGTON – The worst forms of a drug-resistant killer tuberculosis bug, rapidly spreading throughout the world, have been gaining ground in the United States along with record legal and illegal immigration levels, alarming public-health officials over a disease once thought vanquished. Hispanic Baby Boom Follows New Orleans Hurricane
December 12, 2006
Eduardo Porter -- The New York Times Media Group
The New Orleans hosiptals are financialy struggling due to high illegal birth rate.
First came the storm. Then came the workers. Now comes the baby boom. In the latest twist to the demographic transformation of New Orleans since it was swamped by Hurricane Katrina in August 2005, hundreds of babies are being born to Hispanic immigrant workers, both legal and illegal, who flocked to the city to work on the reconstruction.

For those that argue they pay their taxes:
Center for Immigration Studies
The High Cost of Cheap Labor
Illegal Immigration and the Federal Budget

Executive Summary

Among the findings:
Households headed by illegal aliens imposed more than $26.3 billion in costs on the federal government in 2002 and paid only $16 billion in taxes, creating a net fiscal deficit of almost $10.4 billion, or $2,700 per illegal household.

Among the largest costs are Medicaid ($2.5 billion); treatment for the uninsured ($2.2 billion); food assistance programs such as food stamps, WIC, and free school lunches ($1.9 billion); the federal prison and court systems ($1.6 billion); and federal aid to schools ($1.4 billion).

With nearly two-thirds of illegal aliens lacking a high school degree, the primary reason they create a fiscal deficit is their low education levels and resulting low incomes and tax payments, not their legal status or heavy use of most social services.

On average, the costs that illegal households impose on federal coffers are less than half that of other households, but their tax payments are only one-fourth that of other households.

Many of the costs associated with illegals are due to their American-born children, who are awarded U.S. citizenship at birth. Thus, greater efforts at barring illegals from federal programs will not reduce costs because their citizen children can continue to access them.

If illegal aliens were given amnesty and began to pay taxes and use services like households headed by legal immigrants with the same education levels, the estimated annual net fiscal deficit would increase from $2,700 per household to nearly $7,700, for a total net cost of $29 billion.

Costs increase dramatically because unskilled immigrants with legal status -- what most illegal aliens would become -- can access government programs, but still tend to make very modest tax payments.

Although legalization would increase average tax payments by 77 percent, average costs would rise by 118 percent.

The fact that legal immigrants with few years of schooling are a large fiscal drain does not mean that legal immigrants overall are a net drain -- many legal immigrants are highly skilled.

The vast majority of illegals hold jobs. Thus the fiscal deficit they create for the federal government is not the result of an unwillingness to work.

The results of this study are consistent with a 1997 study by the National Research Council, which also found that immigrants' education level is a key determinant of their fiscal impact.