Unlikely Player in Immigrant Dispute: Volleyball Backyard volleyball games have become a flash point in the debate over immigration in Danbury, Connecticut. The sport is popular among the city's Hispanic immigrant community. But their games have drawn complaints from neighbors who are calling for a crackdown on illegal immigration. Amy Jeffries of member station WNPR reports on the controversy.
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Unlikely Player in Immigrant Dispute: Volleyball

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Unlikely Player in Immigrant Dispute: Volleyball

Unlikely Player in Immigrant Dispute: Volleyball

Unlikely Player in Immigrant Dispute: Volleyball

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  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/4671934/4671935" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
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Backyard volleyball games have become a flash point in the debate over immigration in Danbury, Connecticut. The sport is popular among the city's Hispanic immigrant community. But their games have drawn complaints from neighbors who are calling for a crackdown on illegal immigration. Amy Jeffries of member station WNPR reports on the controversy.

JENNIFER LUDDEN, host:

Now another story from the Northeast. If you visit Danbury, Connecticut, you'll see evidence of successive waves of immigration over the decades. There are Portuguese bakeries, Asian gift shops and Brazilian beauty salons. But the latest newcomers are clashing with older residents, and the mayor is calling for a crackdown on illegal immigration. Amy Jeffries of member station WNPR has this report.

AMY JEFFRIES reporting:

A few Latin-American men are sitting at the counter of a small Ecuadorean restaurant just off Main Street. They've come here after a day of work doing landscaping or light construction in the wealthy towns of southern Fairfield County. The restaurant's owner, Wilson Hernandez, says the men come here for a taste of home.

(Soundbite of machine)

Mr. WILSON HERNANDEZ (Restaurant Owner): We love shakes.

JEFFRIES: What's the most popular kind of shake?

Mr. HERNANDEZ: Raspberry or three-tomato.

JEFFRIES: In the past decade more than 15,000 people have moved to Danbury, many of them Hispanic. The city estimates an additional 15,000 undocumented immigrants, mostly from Ecuador and Brazil, have come, too, swelling the population by a third. And they've brought another part of their culture here, volleyball.

(Soundbite of volleyball game under way)

Unidentified Man #1: (Foreign language spoken)

Unidentified Man #2: (Foreign language spoken)

JEFFRIES: It's just before 8 on Saturday evening. At the intersection of two residential streets in Danbury, about 20 Ecuadorean immigrants are watching a volleyball game. Three-man teams push the ball back and forth, as another man keeps score on a hand-made peg board. The net is drawn across the parking lot of a multifamily house. A catch net about 20 feet high rings the whole lot to keep the ball from straying into the street or into the neighbor's yard just a few steps away. Tonight's crowd is quiet and low key, but Danbury Mayor Mark Boughton says some neighborhood games have drawn hundreds of people and countless complaints about late-night noise, bright lights and car-clogged streets.

Mayor MARK BOUGHTON (Danbury, Connecticut): We have people that are actually selling court time at their house and using that to offset paying the mortgage. Well, people are going to know that's going on in the street, and they're not going to want to move to that street. So you have to--that's why we have to really address this in both an enforcement fashion and in a practical matter of giving alternative places for people to play.

JEFFRIES: Boughton has agreed to help build three new volleyball courts in one of the city's parks. But Boughton is also considering a far more unusual remedy to the strains caused by immigration in Danbury: deputizing some state police officers as immigration agents. Similar action has been taken in Florida and other states but not in the Northeast. Connecticut's Department of Public Safety is studying the proposal.

(Soundbite of saw)

JEFFRIES: Juan, an undocumented immigrant who did not want to give his last name, doesn't like the idea.

JUAN (Undocumented Immigrant): (Through Translator) I think that it's bad, you know. The people who come here and--need to have the opportunity to work. That's why they migrate from the countries that they're from, you know? They need to give them the opportunity to work and have stable jobs. That way they can come up and in a short time ...(unintelligible) to their country.

JEFFRIES: Juan has come here to Kennedy Park at the far edge of Main Street looking for work, but it's hard. When a contractor drives up, a dozen or so men swarm around the truck as the man inside waves his fingers to indicate how many workers he needs--just two or three.

(Soundbite of door slamming)

JEFFRIES: Mike Ballwig's diner is just around the corner. He doesn't have a problem with legal immigration; his wife is an immigrant from Portugal. But he says the day laborers cause a nuisance.

Mr. MIKE BALLWIG: They gather there every morning, and anybody who tries to stop even at the mailbox--they have to have a police officer there because they've had issues where people just dropping mail in the mailbox, the immigrants jump right in their cars to go to work for the day.

JEFFRIES: Latin-American immigrants say they're willing to accept the plan to move volleyball games out of the neighborhoods. But Wilson Hernandez worries the mayor's proposals to bridle immigration could encourage racial profiling and spark prejudice. Hernandez says the city should be careful not to scare away immigrants because they're making a big contribution to Danbury.

Mr. HERNANDEZ: New immigrants are buying houses, and, you know, when you own a house, you pay taxes. That's part of being a neighbor. I know that's the way we build up a community.

JEFFRIES: Hernandez says immigrants come here because they hear it's a peaceful, welcoming community. And he says deputizing police officers as immigration agents would be a mistake. But Mayor Mark Boughton says something has to be done to quell the rapid influx of new immigrants. For NPR News, I'm Amy Jeffries.

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