California Town Aims to Bar Illegal Immigrants from Renting

On Monday, May 15, the city council in San Bernardino, Calif., will vote on an ordinance that will make it illegal for landlords to rent to undocumented immigrants. It would also prohibit the hiring of day laborers. Under the ordinance, workers must prove they are in the country legally. Steven Cuevas of member station KPCC reports.

JOHN YDSTIE, host:

The city council in San Bernardino, California is scheduled to vote Monday on a tough anti-illegal immigration measure.

From member station KPCC, Steven Cuevas has more.

STEVEN CUEVAS reporting:

Joseph Turner says he's tired of waiting.

Mr. JOSEPH TURNER (Councilman, San Bernardino County): We've been waiting for over 25 years for them to do something about the illegal alien situation. The time is over for waiting for the federal government to get off its ass and do anything.

CUEVAS: Turner is the author of the proposed ordinance, called the Illegal Immigration Relief Act. If approved it would, among other things, prohibit landlords from renting to undocumented individuals. Those who do, could be fined $1,000; so could anyone who hires an undocumented worker. Employers could also have their cars impounded, if they transport an undocumented worker to a work site.

San Bernardino Councilman Chas Kelley is among the few city officials to support the measure.

Councilman CHAS KELLEY (Councilman, San Bernardino, California): Some would make the reach that this is racist. This is not. This is simply about obeying the law, and the law is you come here legally, period.

Mr. CUEVAS: San Bernardino is home to roughly 200,000 residents, more than half of them Latino. And it's primarily a city of renters.

Ben Lamson owns and operates 53 apartment units in San Bernardino. He's also a board member of the Apartment Association of the Greater Inland Empire. Lampson worries that the measure would create a host of problems for property managers.

Mr. BEN LAMSON (President, Apartment Association of the Greater Inland Empire, California): We want to get control of the illegal immigration situation, but the way this particular ballot initiative is written right now, it's unworkable, it's unfair, it's very hard to implement. You know, it's turning the rental owners, as well as the city now, kind of, into the federal immigration police people.

Mr. CUEVAS: There's also concern that the measure could effect other parts of the economy, construction, for instance. The San Bernardino region has undergone a building boom in recent years. According to a recent nationwide survey, up to 14 percent of construction workers may be undocumented.

(Soundbite of construction worksite)

In a quiet, San Bernardino neighborhood, a handful of Latino workers are repaving a driveway. The crew's boss, Rick Avila(ph), says his workers are here legally. He says he's against illegal immigration and did not support the recent marches and boycotts, but he doubts the proposed measure would have much impact on his industry.

Mr. RICK AVILA: The people it would affect would be homeowners who hire people to mow their lawns. Those are the people that usually go to Home Depot and get the day laborers. Not us, as contractors.

Mr. CUEVAS: Avila says construction is slowing down in the city, anyway. That's why he's taking smaller jobs like this one. Avila ran for mayor in 2005. Back then, illegal immigration rarely came up; crime, affordable housing, and how to bring more business and more workers into the city, dominated campaign chatter. Avila ranks illegal immigration near the bottom of the city's problems.

Mr. AVILA: I think it should be a federal issue, not a city issue.

Mr. CUEVAS: Still, the measure's author, Joseph Turner, is eager for other localities to embrace legislation just like it.

Mr. TURNER: If something this can pass in the city of San Bernardino, then it can probably pass anywhere. And I'm hoping that this will be a landmark development in the illegal immigration debate. And if we're successful, it should prove to elected officials that they can run on this issue.

Mr. CUEVAS: And that's just what many local immigration rights supporters are worried about.

At a recent meeting in nearby Riverside, Turner's proposal was a burning topic. U.C. Riverside ethnic studies Professor, Armando Navarro, warned of such legislation passing in San Bernardino, or anywhere.

Professor ARMANDO NAVARRO (Chairman, Ethnic Studies Department, University of California-Riverside): It is a provision that is developed with a specific purpose of almost creating not a genocide in the physical sense, but a removal of the immigrant community from San Bernardino.

Mr. CUEVAS: Activists plan a series of actions to prevent the measure's passage. The city, meanwhile, is scrambling to figure out how much it would cost to enforce the Illegal Immigration Relief Act ordinance.

On Monday, the San Bernardino City Council can either approve the measure as written, or put the matter before voters.

For NPR News, I've Steven Cuevas in San Bernardino.

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