Nevada town passes English Language and Patriot Reaffirmation Ordinance

Harold F. Schiffman haroldfs at
Mon Dec 18 18:54:50 UTC 2006

>>From the NYTimes, December 18, 2006

Stars and Strife: Flag Rule Splits Town

PAHRUMP, Nev.  When Michael Miraglia retired and moved to this booming
bedroom community last year, he found that the builders and landscapers
working on his new home spoke so little English that he was unable to
communicate with them. So after his appointment this year to fill a
vacancy on the town board, Mr. Miraglia, 67, proposed an ordinance
declaring English the official language of Pahrump, an unincorporated town
of about 35,000 people in Nye County, 60 miles west of Las Vegas. The
proposal also denied unspecified town benefits to undocumented foreign
nationals and forbade the flying of any foreign flag without an
accompanying American flag.

Mr. Miraglia said that the English Language and Patriot Reaffirmation
Ordinance, as he called it, was intended to bring the community together
under a common language and custom. But its adoption on Nov. 14, by a vote
of 3 to 2, has had the opposite effect. It has stirred up anger toward the
immigrants, said Arturo A. Reyes, 40, who came to the United States from
El Salvador two decades ago and became a citizen. Mr. Reyes, who owns El
Cancn Mexican Restaurant on Highway 160, also known as Main Street, added,
The whole thing is just bad; its just stupid. Mr. Miraglia saw it

These people are breaking the law, he said of the illegal immigrants here,
most of whom are Hispanic, and they should be prosecuted somehow. Pahrump,
known for its legal brothels, is not the only community to pass
anti-immigration or English-only measures in recent months. Similar laws
have been adopted in Taneytown, Md.; Farmers Branch, Tex.; and Hazelton,
Pa. In November, Arizona voters made English that states official
language. Pahrumps English-only ordinance is likely to be short-lived
because the three board members who voted for it, including Mr. Miraglia,
will be replaced in January by newly elected members who have said that
they oppose the ordinance and want to rescind it.

[Last Tuesday, the board defeated another proposal by Mr. Miraglia that
would have required illegal foreign workers to register at the town hall,
pay a $200 fee and provide personal information, including a list of
relatives living in the United States.] The hullabaloo surrounding Mr.
Miraglias latest proposal and the language ordinance has caused friction
here. Some Hispanic residents have said that since Mr. Miraglias proposals
were introduced, people in passing cars have yelled racial slurs at them.
Lee Rowland, a lawyer with the American Civil Liberties Union of Nevada,
said students had been harassed by school officials for speaking Spanish
in private conversations.

And eggs have been thrown at the home of Robert and Liese Tamburrino, a
white couple who protested the ordinance by flying Italian and Polish
flags, representing the heritage of Mr. Tamburrinos parents. They also
received a hate letter calling them thimble-brained, knuckle-dragging
cretins. This is a blatant act of civil disobedience, said Mr. Tamburrino,
59, who bought the flags the day after the ordinance passed. Im breaking
the law.  Three people spoke for 35,000, and the way they spoke reeks of
prejudice and ignorance. I do not see the Mexican immigrants as a burden
on me or my community at all. I see them as just trying to feed their
families and doing jobs other Americans dont want to do. The language
ordinance also has burnished an image of Pahrump as an Old West backwater,
which many residents say is inaccurate. Census data show it is one of the
fastest-growing communities in the nation. The population has surged by
more than 45 percent since 2000. More than 10,000 new homes are under
construction and the city has three golf courses and a country club with a
racetrack for collectible car owners.

It is very embarrassing to us when things like this happen, said Laurayne
Murray, a Town Board member who opposed the language ordinance and the
worker registration proposal. Its unconstitutional, its unenforceable and
I dont think it reflects how most people here think. It is unclear how
many immigrants or non-English speakers live in Pahrump. Hispanics were
7.6 percent of the population, the 2000 census said. But most people say
the figure has grown, a perception supported by the four local elementary
schools, where 12 percent to 17 percent of students are Hispanic. That
apparent growth has unnerved some old-timers here, including Fred Harvard,
61, who supported the ordinance.

They come in here, they take the jobs, they take away the services that
belong to real Americans and they dont respect our flag, said Mr. Harvard,
who was born in Nevada. Its not right. Mr. Miraglias original version of
the ordinance would have created penalties for hiring illegal immigrants
and for renting dwellings and loaning money to them, but he said he
removed those provisions because the town could not afford the cost of
going after landlords and employers. People can still speak their own
language on their own, but we just wanted to establish English as the
language for the town of Pahrump so we dont have to publish everything in
7 or 10 different languages, Mr. Miraglia said. It only benefits people
who come here to learn English because they can be a part of the
community. If you and I were speaking, how would we communicate if we
didnt have a common language? And our common language is English.

Mr. Miraglia said he learned from an e-mail message from a constituent
that the provision about flying foreign flags violated freedom of speech.
I sent it to our town manager and we agreed it probably isnt
constitutional, he said. Ms. Rowland of the A.C.L.U. said that she tried
to explain the problem with the flag provision to Mr. Miraglia and the
rest of the Board on Nov.  14, but her voice may have been drowned out by
hecklers. Tony DeMeo, the sheriff of Nye County, said he tried to make the
same point when he issued a statement saying that he would not enforce the
restriction on displaying flags.

George Romero, 36, who owns two Mexican restaurants and a convenience
store in Pahrump, said the board did not listen because it was motivated
by cut-and-dried racism. But Mr. Romero said he did not think that the
boards attitude reflected that of most of Pahrump, even though one of his
restaurants was painted with anti-Mexican slurs on May 1, when he closed
them in observance of the national Day Without An Immigrant protests.
Theres an immigration problem in the whole country, Mr. Romero said, but
as far as them taking other peoples jobs in Pahrump, I guarantee you
businesses would hire the most qualified and legalized people if they were
available. Teresa Culhane-Kennedy, manager of the Brothel Art Museum, a
bar outside town with displays that tell the history of legal
prostitution, said she understood how residents felt. Theres way too many
people being allowed to just walk across the border, its that easy, she
said. Somebodys got to do something.


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