CARPENTERSVILLE – About 3,000 Latino protesters descended upon the Carpentersville Village Board meeting Tuesday night to voice their indignation with a proposed ordinance that would crack down on "illegal aliens" in the village.
The national debate over illegal immigration played out locally on the lawn in front of Village Hall, as the throng of Latinos chanted, "USA, USA," while a handful of residents shouted back, "Speak English."
The crowd was so large that village leaders decided to postpone the discussion about the controversial proposal, which would fine any business or landlord who does business with illegal immigrants. The Village Board room holds about 200 people; the village intends to find a venue large enough to hold anyone wishing to participate.
"We're prepared tonight, and we'll be prepared next time," a woman in the crowd called out as the trustees voted to postpone the meeting.
Outside, police in riot gear holding barking dogs stood on the crowd's perimeter, as news of the postponement made its way through the crowd of people, some holding aloft signs saying, "We're Part of this Country" and "We are Carpentersville."
"I'm here because I've lived here for 25 years, and this is the first time I've felt so unwelcome," Felipe Escalante said. "We support this town, we go to the restaurants, we're workers here. Now I feel uncomfortable. But I felt chills when I saw how many people were here."
This town of 37,000 in northern Kane County is 40 percent Hispanic. Tensions over immigrants living here motivated two trustees to propose the ordinance, making Carpentersville the first town in the Chicago area to join a handful of others nationwide attempting to limit immigration locally.
"[Illegal immigration] is becoming a problem here, and it's only getting worse," trustee Paul Humpfer said. "We see it in overcrowded homes, overcrowded schools and an increase in crime."
The draft, almost identical to one passed in Hazleton, Pa., would fine businesses and put their licenses at risk if they do business with illegal immigrants. It also would make English the official language of Carpentersville. The Hazleton ordinance isn't being enforced after several groups, including the ACLU, fought it in court.
Don Lee, a Lake in the Hills resident who used to live in the village, said he attended because he wanted to show his support for the ordinance.
"These are perfectly reasonable rules, it's ridiculous to make this big of deal over this," he said. "We need to make it less comfortable for illegals to come here so they stop coming."
Kristin Kumpf, of the Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights, said the organization intended to fight the ordinance, saying it "smears all undocumented immigrants as criminals, nuisances, and burdens to society."
"They are the base of the economy here," she said. "Without them, the economy here would collapse."
Bill Sarto, village president, fears that scenario. He opposes the ordinance, calling it "divisive" and "counter-productive."
The local government doesn't have the power to enforce national immigration laws, he said.
Requiring businesses to check whether a customer is in the U.S. legally only will lead to profiling of all Hispanics, he said.
"This isn't healthy for our community," he said. "Our Hispanic residents feel very hurt by this. They feel like this is being pushed by people who just don't want Hispanics as neighbors."
By ALEXA AGUILAR