I could sense it coming the way a dog understands doom slightly sooner than its owner.
We’d just finished an 11-minute video called “Immigration by the Numbers,” a pedantic piece by a man named Roy Beck, who uses gumballs to represent population projections from the U.S. Census Bureau. It’s his way of illustrating the overwhelming wrongness of the idea that America can help the Third World by welcoming its citizens into this country to seek economic prosperity — for those who remember what that’s like.
Beck places a single gumball, representing one million immigrants, in an empty snifter. That is how many people stream into this country legally every year, he says. Then he unveils a jar the size of his torso, full of gumballs, meant to represent the population of the Third World. For every gumball he drops into the snifter, he pours a glass-full into the jar. By the end, gumballs are overflowing onto the floor, and tight shots of crowd members gasping and looking concerned leave us with the feeling that we may have permanently, devastatingly, miscalculated our place in the world.
The lights come back on. Metro Councilman Doug Hawkins, R-25, a contrarian public official if ever there was one, shares a look of concern with the 13 people in the room, a small meeting spot tucked inside Jewish Medical Center’s Southwest enclave. I doubt anyone here is under 50 — save me, the councilman and his legislative aide. It’s the second in a series of four smaller community meetings Hawkins planned on immigration, to be followed by a larger gathering at some point.
“Immigration has made this country great, but it has been legal immigration,” Hawkins begins, assuring also that he has nothing against Mexicans or any other of this country’s ethnic minorities. He agrees with Beck’s notion that it is the fault of Congress — which changed federal law in 1965 to allow more legal immigrants into this country than it could reasonably accommodate over time — that the flood of immigrants has overstressed public resources and infrastructure in America, and that, as he says, California would have to build one new school per day in perpetuity to keep pace with its current population growth.
It’s probably less than five minutes later that Hawkins fires up another video, this one of a speech given by Newt Gingrich at the National Press Club, the gist of which is that America is doomed to a fate of suicide bombings and terrorist attacks if it does not advance a worldwide military agenda.
“I do not want to associate illegal immigration with terrorist activities,” Hawkins says when Gingrich finishes. “However, they do go hand-in-hand in a lot of ways.”
By now, those of us who pay attention have heard Hawkins’ line that his office stopped counting after the 500th constituent call asking that something be done about illegal immigration in Louisville. He has proposed a resolution to establish an official Metro policy explaining what public services could be given to illegal immigrants and institute training for Metro employees to detect falsified documents used during requests for such services, including job training, care at health clinics, career services and homeownership programs like winter weatherization. Nobody’s sure how much advantage immigrants are currently taking of these services.
Hawkins told those gathered that he wants to push further — his office is preparing a resolution that would, when someone is found to be driving without a license or insurance, call for immediate impoundment of the vehicle — but that “the city council is overwhelmingly hostile to anything that is anti-immigration.” His first resolution remains stalled in the Health and Human Needs committee; chairwoman Mary Woolridge, D-3, doesn’t plan to hold a hearing on it this week. Woolridge and other committee members have said they haven’t heard much — if any — clamor from constituents about illegal immigration.
Regardless, people remain fearful.
“When they get in, they have their brothers, sisters, uncles and cousins in the apartment — it may be two of them, but it ends up a family of them,” Dave Wiseman, a landlord in Southwest Louisville, told me after the meeting. He said he gets regular calls from potential tenants who need a translator to communicate. He’s afraid to rent to them because he fears they’re illegal, and he said renting to illegals would drop his property’s value and appeal.
Shirley Duffy said she has a friend whose Social Security number was used by an illegal to file taxes, leaving the friend without a refund. “The people that are coming in here and living off of us” need to be rooted out, she said.
Vicci Gamblin, who was there with Duffy, said she’s upset about “all the welfare and stuff they’re receiving off our tax dollars.”
Hawkins passed out a sheet urging the aggrieved to call City Hall and complain. Only twice did members of the crowd invoke the classic “me no speak-ah de English” joke.
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