- The Washington Times - Wednesday, May 30, 2007


First, there was a “sanctuary” resolution, then angry standoffs with Minutemen activists. As passions boiled, a Mexican flag was hoisted in broad daylight over a nondescript post office building on the main thoroughfare.

Now, less than a year on, there are handshakes, backslaps, smiling faces and promises of cooperation with “los federales.”

Where an uncertain brave new world appeared to spread its wings, it now lies prostrate, brought down by forces beyond its control.

And Old Glory is flapping again in its proud place in a community that looks nothing like the hotbed of a rebellion.

Their houses are modest but freshly painted. Front yards are small but adorned with well-maintained flower beds.

Inexpensive cars are carefully washed and waxed, black-and-white school uniforms are starched and pressed, and the subdued but solemn likeness of the Virgin of Guadalupe graces the entrances of most of the homes.

“We have God-fearing people here,” said Sgt. Enrique Gonzalez, a veteran of the local police force of about three dozen officers who richly peppers his English with Spanish idioms. “We noticed that even gang members refrain from touching stores if the image of the Virgin is on the front.”

There is not a single abortion clinic in this community of more than 30,000, mainly immigrants from Mexico, Central America and Argentina, who have made this southern suburb of Los Angeles their home.

“That would not go over very well here,” Sgt. Gonzalez said.

Maywood made its mark in the national debate on illegal immigration in January 2006, when the City Council passed a resolution rejecting demands that its local police cooperate with federal authorities in enforcing immigration laws.

So-called “sanctuary” policies are not new, and far larger cities such as Houston and San Francisco have adopted them.

But Maywoods appeared to go a step further, proposing not only to turn a blind eye on illegal immigration but also actively encourage it.

“We are creating a sanctuary for immigrants and want them to come here,” Vice Mayor Felipe Aguirre was quoted in the local Hispanic press as saying. “We want to tell them that if they come under attack in other places like Costa Mesa or Cypress Park, they can move here and feel secure.”

On Mr. Aguirres prodding, the city eliminated its traffic-enforcement division a not-so-subtle response to Californias refusal to issue driver’s licenses to undocumented aliens.

Border security activists led by California Minutemen descended on the city, sparking protests that resulted in shouting matches and police cordons in the downtown area.

The tensions reached a high in August, when the Stars and Stripes at the post office came down while the tricolored Mexican eagle soared to the top of the mast.

“I think it was done by some very unstable individual,” Mayor Sergio J. Calderon now says apologetically. “We notified the postal police immediately, and the U.S. flag was soon restored.”

But the incident has had a national resonance, fueling charges of Mexican “reconquista,” or attempts to reclaim territories lost in the 1846-48 Mexican-American War, and has resulted in scores of angry phone calls, letters and e-mails.

It all now seems like a tale from a bygone era.

“We dont want Maywood to be singled out,” the mayor says. “In the end, people here want the same things as people in other communities: education, prosperity and an opportunity to better themselves.”

Mr. Calderon and his police officials say in one voice that the elimination of the traffic division was just part of a police department “reorganization” and had nothing to do with Californias stance on illegal immigration.

“We continue to prosecute unlicensed drivers,” the mayor said. “We still impound their cars. It is just being done by regular patrol officers.”

He said the sanctuary resolution was passed to express the citys disagreement with a bill championed last year by Rep. F. James Sensenbrenner Jr., Wisconsin Republican, which proposed to declare illegal immigration a felony.

The bill passed in the House of Representatives, but was stripped of its most controversial provisions in subsequent House-Senate negotiations before it was folded into a larger piece of legislation on border security that ultimately did not become law.

Mr. Calderon says Maywood city government considers immigrant smuggling a crime and would not hesitate to go after “coyotes,” smugglers who often abuse illegal aliens. He said the city has cooperated with the U.S. government on other immigration issues.

“I think the media resorts to sensationalism in describing what is going on here,” he said. “I dont think we have ever denied the federal government cooperation.”

Sgt. Gonzalez said the Maywood Police Department fully cooperates with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) on outstanding deportation warrants and other issues.

Virginia Kice, a spokeswoman for regional ICE, corroborates these statements.

“We enjoy excellent relations with police departments throughout Southern California,” she said. “We have never had a significant issue.”

The streets offer no indication of a community in turmoil. They are tidy, clean and quiet except for a gaggle of children surrounding an ice-cream vendor.

Most of the citys residents, 96 percent of them Hispanic, work at a nearby plastic container plant, at the countless warehouses serving the nearby port of Long Beach, or in retail or construction, officials said.

With homeownership reaching 85 percent, it has no large government-subsidized rental tenements typical of similar immigrant communities on the East Coast.

“We like our homes, we like our gardens, and we dont like anything that could hurt it,” said Sgt. Gonzalez, adding that a key priority for the police department is to fight street crime that is driving down property prices.

Housewives hauled groceries, vendors hawked wares, and construction crews steamrolled fresh asphalt.

The only one missing in this microcosm of ownership was Mr. Aguirre, the father of the local sanctuary movement.

He never picked up his phone, and countless messages left on his answering machine remain unanswered.

His political allies at the League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC) said he was still answering his private cell phone, but the number was known only to a few intimate friends. Yet even that one turned out to be disconnected.

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