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Petition targets illegal immigration
Cape group pushes county, city to crack down

By Erin Gillespie
Originally posted on September 08, 2006

Americans Standing Tall, a Cape Coral-based group fighting illegal immigration, has asked two local governments to help stop the influx of undocumented immigrants.

Petitions submitted Thursday to the Cape Coral City Council and the Lee County commission call for an end to public services for the illegal immigrant population.

The Florida cities of Palm Bay and Avon Park rejected similar proposals this year.

Two cities — Hazelton, Pa., and Riverside, N.J. — have passed ordinances restricting illegal immigrants from housing and jobs.

"It's happening across the country," said Tony Maida, co-founder of Americans Standing Tall. "They're not waiting for the federal government to do it. They say it's working."

With 1,000 signatures from Lee County residents, including 700 from Cape Coral, the petition asks that:

• Businesses that intentionally hire illegal immigrants be denied a permit and be subject to fines.

• Landlords who knowingly rent or lease property to illegal immigrants be fined.

• No city services, except in an emergency, be provided to anyone who is not a U.S. citizen.

• The city declare English the official language and use it on all documents.

"We feel it's incumbent upon us as Americans Standing Tall and over 700 people and then some to tell a city government, 'Wake up, people. We want something done,' " said Maida, who lives in Cape Coral with the group's co-founder, Mary Ann Redmon.

Federal problem

Cape Coral Mayor Eric Feichthaler said Congress needs to pass immigration reform so laws are uniform.

"All 50 states and cities passing rules — there would be chaos," he said.

The mayor said, however, that English should be the official language of Cape Coral.

Maida said the federal government has not done enough to stop illegal immigration, so it is up to local governments.

"Cape Coral could be the shining beacon of light for the rest of the state," he said. "For a city to pass the buck to the federal government, they are shirking their responsibility."

Immigrant injustice

The petition is an attack on immigrants, said Luis Ibarra, president of Latin Immigrants United of Florida, one of several agencies that organized a pro-immigration march April 10 in Fort Myers that attracted at least 75,000 people.

"This is an injustice," Ibarra said. "They are trying to step on our rights, but we'll be there to ward them off."

Juan Romero, a Bonita Springs activist, wonders whether the local groups have thought about the cost of enforcing fines against businesses and landlords.

"And what will businesses and employers think about this?" he said. "We've already got federal immigration laws established."

Petition signers

Mario Kyriakidis, of Cape Coral, is an immigrant from Greece who signed the petition.

"I came to this country in 1955. Nobody made it easy for me," he said. "Nobody put their products in Greek. We had to learn English."

Kyriakidis said the cost of social services for illegal immigrants is too high.

"They want everything their way," he said.

Toni Insolia said she helped get petition signatures because American culture is changing.

"We used to be a melting pot, and we have always welcomed newcomers, but I feel that this time they are not adopting our culture," she said.

"I believe that we're going to be strangers in our own country."

Government response

Cape Councilman Mickey Rosado said the issue is too complicated for the City Council.

"We recognize illegal immigration is not proper and not the way of life, but this has been a long issue in America," he said. "I support tougher borders, but this is not an issue I am willing to take on at this time."

Maida wants more.

"They better do something because we are the voters," he said. "They better do something to protect us."

Maida and Redmon plan to be at the Cape's council meeting next week to ask the council to approve the petition.

That doesn't look likely.

Councilman Tim Day said immigrants need to learn English but Americans also should learn Spanish. And he doubts that illegal immigrants are taking away jobs.

"If it wasn't for illegal aliens, a lot of the housing projects would not have taken place. We could not get people to do the work," he said.

In the end, it's a federal problem, Day said.

County commission

Lee County commission Chairwoman Tammy Hall said the county doesn't have jurisdiction over illegal immigrants.

"I don't think we're going to pass an ordinance," she said, "and there's nothing we can do about it."

Hall said the board may discuss the issue.

Commissioner Bob James said there's nothing the county can do.

"I think the government needs to act on it. I think one way is to perhaps issue work permits because it's very hard to stop immigration," he said.

Maida's group has not tried to get signatures from residents of Fort Myers or Bonita Springs to petition those city governments.

— The News-Press staff writers Pedro Morales and Tom Hayden contributed to this report.