Get Out of Town

Cities vs. immigrants


Avon Park, Florida, Mayor Tom Macklin has an unusual scheme for economic growth: Kick people out.

He got the idea from talk radio, where another mayor—Lou Barletta of Hazleton, Pennsylvania—was talking about his crackdown on landlords who rent homes to illegal immigrants. Thus inspired, the chief executive of this modest central Florida burg (population around 8,800) proposed the Illegal Immigration Relief Act, which would deny permits to businesses that employ migrant workers. The ordinance, which would also make English the official language of the city, states that illegal immigration "destroys our neighborhoods and diminishes our overall quality of life." It passed by a vote of three to two on first reading, with a final vote scheduled for July 24.

The backlash hit shortly after the first vote. In a city that relies on citrus and cattle agriculture for most of its economy, businesses couldn't afford to lose migrant workers. The Avon Park Chamber of Commerce came out against the bill, with Executive Director David Greenslade declaring that it "would have a negative impact on the economic viability of our city. People who are illegal aren't going to shop here. People who employ migrant workers aren't going to do business here. We've already seen incidence of that, and the ordinance hasn't even passed yet."

If the ordinance fails, it will be because of the fear of lost business. One provision bans companies that have hired illegal immigrants within the last five years from Avon Park. That definition would include Wal-Mart, whose arrival in the town would help offset the loss of the 20 percent or so of the population that Macklin's ordinance might chase away.