On the hot August morning when it all began, Elizabeth Villafranca was sitting in her spacious North Dallas kitchen reading the newspaper when a headline pulled her to the edge of her seat. "Farmers Branch proposal would target illegal immigrants," it read. "Illegal immigrants are responsible for much of what is wrong with Farmers Branch, says City Council member Tim O'Hare."
She threw down the paper in disgust. Then she got up and called her husband, who was already at work at Cuquitas, the Mexican restaurant they own in Farmers Branch.
"You're not going to believe this," she said. As she spoke, spilling out the story and how ridiculous it was and how they had to do something, and her husband responded with his characteristic few words and calm uh-huhs, she resolved to go to the city council meeting that evening herself. Yes, that was it. She would go and take their 6-year-old daughter.
"You know what, Enrique, we're going to have a civics lesson today," she told her husband. He said what he usually says when his wife gets lit up and carried away by one of her ideas, like the time she spent three years lobbying their church to offer Mass in Spanish.
"Aye Eliza, pareces la abogada del pueblo," he joked. There you go, the town lawyer, stirring things up, trying to be all things to all people. Fine, he said, go to the meeting, and maybe I'll try to meet you there.
Elizabeth was born in this country, and she and her family certainly weren't at risk of being kicked out of it. They were citizens and successful businesspeople, living in a six-bedroom home in a glitzy subdivision, running two large restaurants and preparing to open a third. Her parents, however, had emigrated from Chihuahua, Mexico, as teens with primary-school educations. She spoke Spanish at home growing up. Her husband was born in Monterrey. When she read of the proposals to make English the official language and penalize landowners and employers for renting to and hiring illegal immigrants, she was outraged.
Elizabeth Villafranca, 43, is a broad woman with soft, round features and straight black hair. She wears diamond earrings and red lipstick and never leaves the house without her gold Virgen de Guadalupe pendant hanging on a chain around her neck. When introducing herself, she sticks out her hand, smiles and pronounces her last name with a trilled rrr and a flourish. She doesn't walk so much as power-glide, and this sense of purpose and excitement is even more evident when she talks in her disarming cross between TV show host, PTA president and Valley Girl.
"I'm just like this random person off the street," she says, someone with no track record in politics or activism. Until August, the closest she'd ever come to public leadership was her post as senior class president at Woodrow Wilson High School in Los Angeles. A housewife who devoted her time and energy to homeschooling her daughter and volunteering at church, in recent months she's spoken at meetings and rallies, joined a grassroots political group and even considered a run for office.
Elizabeth grew up in East L.A. during the Chicano movement, as Cesar Chavez was leading the grape boycotts and Mexican-American students walked out of schools to demand classes about their heritage. But it wasn't until last spring that she found herself marching in a sea of people screaming, "Si, se puede!" Back in the '70s it all just seemed—well, a bit unsavory. Her family was traditional, and if they participated in group activities, it usually involved church. Besides, if you already felt like you didn't belong, wouldn't standing around yelling angry slogans just make it worse?
So decades later, on that August morning, as she e-mailed friends and told them to go to City Hall to protest Tim O'Hare's proposals, she regarded herself with some degree of amusement. Her, the Catholic schoolgirl turned wife and mother, an activist? It was absurd. Sure, she'd taken her daughter Natalie to the "Mega Marcha" for immigrant rights back in April, but they were two of thousands of people—500,000, actually. Nonetheless, phrases from the morning's article passed through her mind as if on a ticker tape: "less desirable people," illegal immigrants who "get to come over here and get free medical care, get a free education, not pay taxes and...live like kings and queens..."
She would make a sign, she decided, but she wasn't sure what to put on it. She called a friend. "Why don't you pose a question?" he suggested. "How about 'Is Farmers Branch Racist?'" Perfect. She went to lunch with a girlfriend, dashed to Michaels to pick up some poster board and made her first protest sign.
"I didn't comb my hair, I didn't have any makeup on, I was just like Joe Housewife running out of the house," she'd say later. She didn't know that her face was about to be beamed into thousands of households on the evening news.
By the 1960s, Farmers Branch—settled by people with names like Christopher Columbus Wainscott, Benjamin Franklin Ball and Noah Good—was a run-of-the-mill American suburb swollen by white flight. In recent years, however, the community of white church steeples, tidy treed medians and rolling golf courses has also become a town of taquerias and lavanderias, of bakeries like Panaderia Guatemalteca La Mejor, where customers order in Spanish and Guatemalan flags hang on the walls above piles of pastries.
Farmers Branch's population of 27,508 was 37 percent Hispanic in 2000, according to the U.S. Census, and by all accounts that percentage has surged in the past six years. Yet all six city council members, including the mayor, are white. Farmers Branch is one of dozens of towns and suburbs across the country that have considered measures to restrict illegal immigration since last spring, when Congress debated an immigration overhaul and millions marched in support of immigrant rights. The ordinances proposed by O'Hare echo those passed in July by the town of Hazelton, Pennsylvania, and challenged in lawsuits as unconstitutional.
Dennis Bixler-Márquez, director of the Chicano studies department at the University of Texas at El Paso, says the trend illustrates the frustration of governments struggling to deal with the local impact of a federally managed—or unmanaged—phenomenon. And yet, he says, a driving force behind the hard-line, shut-the-door-and-send-'em back movement is ethnic identity. As the Hispanic population pushes 35 percent in border states like Texas and 15 percent nationwide, "the country suffers from cultural indigestion—the feeling that 'they'll change us,' that the prototype of what's American will change," Bixler-Márquez says.
In late August, O'Hare, a 37-year-old personal injury lawyer about a year into his first city council term, single-handedly dragged his Dallas suburb onto the national stage and triggered a racial maelstrom. He'd offered a three-pronged immigration plan to the city council: "Here are three things I think we should do," he said. "No. 1 is make it illegal for businesses to hire illegal aliens in this city. No. 2 is make it illegal to rent property to illegal aliens in this city. No. 3 is to quit using taxpayer dollars for things like [children's summer camps] to benefit illegal aliens." He also urged a measure declaring English the town's official language.
In the aftermath, syndicated talk radio host Lynn Woolley would hail him for revving "a movement for rule of law," and the Chicago Tribune would describe him as "in the vanguard of an English-only movement that is gaining new adherents in cities and states across the nation and causing alarm among Hispanic civil rights groups."
O'Hare's claims that Farmers Branch schools and property values had degenerated and that crime levels had risen—which he blamed on illegal immigrants who he said neglect their yards and open too many Spanish-speaking businesses—were later debunked. At one meeting, he conceded that he had no statistics to back up his claims. And as the controversy unfurled, critics called him a hypocrite for having advertised "Se habla espanol" on his firm's Web site.
O'Hare and his supporters insist they don't take issue with immigrants or Latinos, just "illegal" ones. Yet almost a year after the town's former police chief was suspended for making a racial slur against Vietnamese people, the public discussion O'Hare initiated has laid bare the town's racial fault lines.
There was Douglas Cucovatz, who complained that when he moved to Farmers Branch 10 years ago, he was surrounded by old people and now he's surrounded by Mexican immigrants.
"Mr. Mayor," he said, addressing the city council, "you live in a nice house and you don't have them next to you, but if you go to Marietta, my street, you'll see four adults and seven kids living in one house. We need to put [these proposals] on the agenda and make it illegal to have anything to do with the Spanish, or Mexicans, in this neighborhood."
There was Robin Bernier, who took the podium wearing an American-flag T-shirt and said, "Mayor, the residents of Farmers Branch have voiced their opinion on illegal immigration...so you have a choice: Support the law-abiding residents of Farmers Branch who want these ordinances passed, or support the illegal aliens and their La Raza/ACLU race-baiting lackeys. Which do you choose?"
O'Hare claims the media have inaccurately portrayed Farmers Branch as divided over the issue of illegal immigration, saying the letters that he's received support the proposals at a rate of "35 to 1." There's no doubt a group has rallied around him, namely about 1,500 people who've signed a petition on supportfarmersbranch.com, a Web site launched to promote the measures. On the Lynn Woolley Show in September, O'Hare dismissed the opposition as "maybe one or two people who want to be on TV and hold signs." In fact, dozens of residents spoke out against the measures at two separate city council meetings and at a Saturday protest rally. And outside City Hall, Anglos and Latinos alike described a new climate of suspicion and fear in Farmers Branch.
One white longtime resident said she felt pressure to take sides and noted a surge in Mexican jokes. In immigrant circles, people told of mean glares at the grocery store and of feeling singled out. One man asked me to show identification when I approached, citing fears of harassment and unfounded rumors that day laborers had been chased by the Texas Minutemen.
Not surprisingly, undocumented immigrants have kept quiet. But naturalized citizens, legal residents and American-born Latinos have raised their voices to challenge O'Hare and the hard-line immigration platform used as a rallying cry for Republicans nationwide. Predictions of a pronounced jump in new Latino voter registrations in the wake of the national marches last spring haven't come to pass, but advocates and academic observers such as Bixler-Márquez say Hispanics who've never before been politically active have marched, made speeches and signed petitions.
In Farmers Branch, while O'Hare supporters pushed for measures to "protect our land from invasion" and "cultural destruction" and immigrant advocacy organizations fired back, people who in the past didn't so much as vote or write their congressmen were stirred enough to show up at meetings and march on City Hall.
Tim O'Hare, a former college football player with brown, carefully parted hair and chestnut eyes, was born in Farmers Branch and has said his family settled there in 1956. He studied finance at UT, attended law school at SMU and worked for local defense and personal injury firms until 2001, when he founded Timothy O'Hare and Associates. In city council meetings and in interviews with the media, he has stressed his commitment to revitalizing his hometown. A member of the Farmers Branch Church of Christ as well as numerous Christian legal associations, he declined an interview with the Dallas Observer because he takes issue with the newspaper's adult advertisements. He'd consulted his pastor about it, he said over the phone, and concluded it would be no different from granting an interview to Playboy. He recently spearheaded ordinances that bar sex offenders from living within 2,000 feet of schools or day-care centers and would set tough regulations for property upkeep, including limits on the number of flower pots allowed in people's yards.
O'Hare framed his immigration proposals as part of this revitalization crusade, saying that, among other things, immigrants often neglect their yards. His claims that immigrants were causing decline in the schools and a surge in crime were later proved to be wrong. The school district's state designation has gone from "acceptable" to "recognized," which means that at least 70 percent of the students passed proficiency tests. Police say crime was down 4.6 percent from 2004 to 2005, and city officials said it was down 9 percent from 2005. Nonetheless, in mid-September, O'Hare told Dallas Blog, "Our crime rate is rising—it's not in horrific shape, but it's on the rise." Property values, which he said were in decline or stagnant, have actually increased 6 percent since 2005.
A crowd showed up to greet O'Hare at the August 21 city council meeting, just a few weeks after he'd mentioned his informal proposal to the council. He addressed the people gathered with signs and spoke in a confident drawl: "I didn't quite expect this kind of turnout, this kind of rah-rah...To suggest that anything behind my ideas is racist is sad. I'm not anti-Hispanic; I'm not anti any race, country, ethnic origin, nationality or anything of the type. I'm strictly against people who are here illegally, people who are breaking the law." He was interrupted by clapping and cheers. "This is not anti-Hispanic. It's simply a matter of fairness."
Resident Joe Pineda wasn't buying it. He'd questioned how O'Hare could make broad statements about a group of people without any statistics to back them up. "I'm appalled that a city council member said what was said without proper documentation," Pineda said that evening. "I just don't see how a public servant could do something like that."
Ben Robinson—the only council member to come out strongly in favor of the proposals—had also suggested banning the gathering of day laborers and authorizing police officers to report immigrants with questionable documents to immigration authorities.
Mayor Bob Phelps was much more cautious, saying the city should wait for the federal government to define immigration policy. "They need to give us some rules to go by that we can enforce," he said. "A small city like Farmers Branch can't take on the whole world."
On August 21, Elizabeth Villafranca climbed in her Suburban and showed up at her first city council meeting with 6-year-old Natalie in tow.
When they arrived, she spotted only a few other Latinos. Where is everyone? she kept thinking. A group of people stood with signs that read, "What part of illegal don't you understand?" and "We welcome legal aliens." Reporters gathered outside the building and in the foyer, and suddenly she was surrounded by cameras.
Soon, Elizabeth went from explaining her sign to justifying her presence in the first place. Several residents demanded to know where she lived. Did she live in Farmers Branch? No, she said, she and her husband owned a business there. One woman said, "How dare you say the city of Farmers Branch is racist?" Another gave her "the evil eye." At one point, in the tumult of signs and flurry of questions, a man complained that Natalie had stepped on his toe. After Enrique arrived from the restaurant and joined his family, the same man approached him. Enrique doesn't remember all of what he said, only that it began with, "How dare you use your daughter to promote your views?"
Later, while cooking dinner at home, Elizabeth talked about the recent controversy and the importance of passing on her culture to her daughter. She spoke heatedly of Pat Buchanan's notion of a Mexican conspiracy to reconquer the Southwest, while Natalie, perched on a stool at the stove, asked if she could warm the tortillas. "Not yet, mija," Elizabeth answered. She turned to me. "You're not in a hurry to go home, are you?"
Natalie, her smile revealing two missing teeth, said, "The last time we had a birthday party, the last person to leave left at 1 a.m. We're really Mexican."
When Elizabeth and her husband go to Mexico to visit family, they make sure Natalie notices the shantytowns and the children begging in the streets. "We live a very privileged life, and we have to teach her that most people don't live like that," Elizabeth says. When Natalie asks her mother why "they want to send those people back" to Mexico, Elizabeth explains that people are either motivated by love or fear, an idea she gleaned from self-help giant Marianne Williamson, whose books line the shelves of her study alongside volumes by Deepak Chopra and Thicht Naht Hahn and a framed photograph of George and Laura Bush.
Elizabeth makes sure her daughter knows that her parents didn't always live in a spacious brick house with white pillars in front and a pool in back. Elizabeth's mother cleaned offices, and her father worked as an electrical contractor. After her parents divorced, she worked afternoons and weekends at their Catholic rectory to help with the bills. She recalls that one Thanksgiving, someone from church gave them a turkey.
Enrique came to the United States at 25 and became a legal resident as part of the 1986 amnesty. Before his mother opened the original Cuquitas and he worked as a cashier there, he manned registers at McDonald's. In 2000, he opened his own Cuquitas on Spring Valley Road, and five years later opened the one in Farmers Branch.
"We're living the American dream," Elizabeth says, walking through their airy living room, where a Virgen de la Caridad figurine gazes out from the mantel. Assimilation, she says, need not require shedding one's past. "I'm as American as you are, and at the same time, I'm as Mexican as my parents were. We barbecue on the Fourth of July, we make turkey at Thanksgiving...and at the same time, the Mexican culture is so rich with traditions—the folkloricos, the mariachis, the piñatas—and did you know salsa is the No. 1 condiment in this country?" Then in the same breathless tone, she tells of calling into a radio talk show after the host decried a Fort Worth school for "forcing" students to celebrate Mexican Independence Day. "Give me a break!" she says. "If you go out on St. Paddy's day, will you be forced to become a Catholic?"
In addition to showing up at City Hall and calling radio shows, Elizabeth joined Uniting Farmers Branch, a grassroots organization formed by a group of residents, including several LULAC members. So far, they've held biweekly meetings, discussing ways to diversify the town leadership.
"I think I've found some special talent," she says. "LULAC wants me to run for city council—they're like, where did you come from? I could be the poster child for the apathetic. I could go on TV and say, 'yo era igual que tu—I was just like you. I didn't vote, I didn't participate, I stayed at home watching telenovelas...I thought my vote wasn't important. And here I am."
Salvador Parada was another accidental activist transformed by the August 21 council meeting. A 27-year-old former Marine, he came to Texas as a toddler with his family, fleeing the war in El Salvador. He's stout and muscular, with soft brown eyes and closely cropped hair. An aspiring teacher, Parada is using his GI Bill benefits to take classes at Brookhaven College. He lives with his wife and three children on the same block as his parents. His mother has worked as a housekeeper at the Farmers Branch Holiday Inn for nearly 20 years, and his father worked car washes and construction, "typical immigrant jobs," as Parada calls them. Like Elizabeth, the first time he participated in a demonstration was last spring. But that one "wasn't personal," he says.
Parada heard about O'Hare's proposals on the radio on August 21. "I was just going to go home and think nothing of it," he says, "but then I drove by [City Hall] and saw three friends from high school—these guys I never expected to see there. We were never involved in politics—we were kind of on our own program."
Once inside, he wasn't sure what to say, but he raised his hand to speak anyway. As he approached the microphone in khakis and a T-shirt, he clenched his fists.
"I'm a product of an immigrant family," he began. "I became a citizen in 1999. I served in the U.S. military as a Marine for four years, and I'm very proud of that. This issue pretty much divides Farmers Branch. I've lived here and enjoyed the community places, the parks; I remember seeing Mayor Phelps every year in Little League...but this issue hurts me deeply because I'm from an immigrant family." His voice quavered. "I just want to say I feel it's unfair—this divides the city a lot. That's all I'm going to say."
The next day, members of LULAC and other Hispanic civil rights groups held a news conference at the Farmers Branch Justice Center. They called for a boycott of city businesses and demanded that O'Hare resign. No formal ordinance had been proposed, but the advocates vowed that if the town passed one, they would file a lawsuit challenging its constitutionality, as the ACLU had done in Hazelton the week before.
The next day, The Dallas Morning News reported that O'Hare "scoffed" at the threats. "I encourage every person in the DFW metroplex that is in support of the proposal to come shop in Farmers Branch to support our stance," he said.
Enrique Villafranca had concerns even before he started getting the calls and letters. He's a low-key guy, and he'd later play down his fears, but he told Elizabeth he worried people might boycott or even vandalize the restaurant if she spoke out against the proposals. Like most successful business owners, he wasn't crazy about drawing attention to himself. Robbers had once emptied their house of electronics while the family was at Christmas Eve Mass, and another time, he'd been shot at while driving home from work in his truck.
In the week after they attended the first council meeting and their pictures were broadcast on the news, Enrique got a call at the restaurant. "Do you live in Farmers Branch?" a male voice asked. No, he replied. "If you don't live in Farmers Branch, you don't know what's going on," the man said. "If you don't support us, we won't support Cuquitas."
In the days that followed, the Villafrancas received about a half-dozen letters. One noted that English had been the official U.S. language "since the first white people set foot on U.S. soil" and concluded, "If Mrs. Villafranca and her family, or anyone else living in the U.S. don't want to adhere to our laws, ideal, customs, etc., they have the right to move elsewhere. The Villafranca family also has the right not to do business in the U.S., and I, for one, will NOT be doing business with them."
Another letter, this one published in the Morning News, ended, "Now we can no longer patronize Cuquitas because we do not want to support a racist business."
When Enrique told her about the letters, Elizabeth had a moment of doubt. What if he was right? What if it was a mistake to get herself and her family involved in all this? In the end, though, she convinced herself and her husband that they were doing the right thing, and that if people started busting out their windows, "they'd be shooting themselves in the foot." Her conviction was strengthened when employees and customers began to thank her.
As she ate breakfast at the restaurant one morning, a woman walked up to her and began to weep. "You don't know me," she said in Spanish, "but I want to thank you for what you're doing for us." Elizabeth was dumbstruck. After all, what had she done aside from attending a few meetings? "No," she began to respond, but the woman interjected. "No, really—you didn't have to get involved."
Among immigrants—undocumented and documented—the proposals and the debate that followed have given rise to fear, suspicion and even paranoia. When after Mass one Sunday at Mary Immaculate Church I approached Rogelio Sosa, he eyed me sternly and asked to see my driver's license. "They've been harassing Hispanics around here lately," Sosa said in Spanish. "They think that because we're Hispanic we're all drug dealers." Becoming increasingly agitated, he recalled that when his now grown son was a teenager, the police would stop him to ask where he got his brand-name clothes. "I worked hard to give my kids what they have," said Sosa, who's lived in Farmers Branch for 25 years. "Now our friends are afraid to come here—they say the police will stop and harass them."
In one conversation after another, Latinos complained that they were all being lumped into one category as dangerous criminals, regardless of their immigration status.
"It's unjust," said 23-year-old Emanuel at La Mejor, the Guatemalan bakery. He'd give only his first name. A year ago, he said, he paid to be smuggled across the border and through the desert from Mexico. He's now earning $8 an hour working for a moving company. "We're trying to get ahead in life honorably," he said. His reaction to the proposals? "It makes me feel discriminated against—like trash," he said.
On the other side of the bakery, Hilda Flores paused during lunch, fork poised in midair. "Hispanics are hard workers. OK, so maybe there's some drinking, some domestic violence, but not all are criminals," she said in Spanish. "Do you ever see Hispanic people begging? You see white Americans begging, you see black Americans begging, but do you ever see Hispanics? They're working hard jobs, construction..." Her words trailed off, and she shook her head and poked at her food. "I don't know how you can persecute a group of people for working so hard. A lot of people are fleeing poverty—why are people so bothered by them?"
Parada, the former Marine and father of three, says that after he appeared in news coverage of the controversy, people at the grocery store or the post office would look at him "different, like, 'I've seen you from somewhere and I really don't like you.'"
Meanwhile, on www.farmers-branch.net, one of two Web sites collecting signatures in support of O'Hare's proposals, a post read: "The illegal community is protesting and promising to sue the city. We need your support, time and money to protect our city and send the invaders away." O'Hare was lauded as a "hometown hero" for taking a "courageous stand on the illegal culture destruction that is taking place in our country."
Linda Haddock feels she no longer knows the community she's called home since she was 12, when Farmers Branch was still "the white 'burbs." Now 52 and a former teacher, she says she understands the concerns of O'Hare and his supporters. She agrees that overcrowding and special needs in the schools, as well as too many cars in driveways and trash in yards, have become burdensome. But she finds the anger and division in her community even more worrisome.
"This has given people a platform to voice their discrimination," she says. "The Hispanic jokes have just been rampant. There's always this uneducated voice spouting racist things." She doesn't like the push back on the other side, either, such as the calls by LULAC to boycott town stores and recall O'Hare. When she met Luis de la Garza, a LULAC member who was born in Mexico City and lives in Farmers Branch, he seemed like "a voice of reason." So she invited him to speak to the Rotary Club about "building bridges" between the Latino and Anglo communities. In his presentation he talked of the push and pull factors of immigration and suggested the creation of councils to teach new Latino residents neighborhood etiquette, such as keeping yards clean and minimizing parking. Haddock says several of the Rotary members didn't appreciate her inviting him, calling it inappropriate.
On the Saturday after advocates held their news conference calling for a boycott and O'Hare's resignation, Salvador Parada awoke with a fever. This was inconvenient for two reasons, first because it was his son's birthday, and second because he was supposed to go to the rally to protest O'Hare's proposals. He'd even gone door to door in his neighborhood the past few days, urging people to attend. Now he felt weak and lightheaded, and his head throbbed. Over his wife's objections, he forced himself to get out of bed and dress, then drove to City Hall.
Approximately 300 people gathered in front of the building in the late summer heat with flags and signs. Elizabeth arrived with Natalie, who asked to hold the large American flag they brought. A LULAC member called out Elizabeth's name over the microphone. How do these people even know my name? she wondered. The LULAC members wanted her to address the crowd. So she pulled Natalie to the front and welcomed everyone, saying, "This isn't just a Farmers Branch thing—it's so much bigger."
About 50 counterprotesters arrived at the rally with signs supporting O'Hare. When Parada took the mike and called the proposals unjust, he was met with shouts. "Does he have papers?" someone yelled. "Was he ever really in the military?" Angry, he held up his sign for them to see. It read, "Tim O'Hare: A Black Eye on Farmers Branch." "I was really offended that they questioned whether I was in the military," he'd say later. "I was [in the Marines] to protect the Constitution, and for them to say something like that to me was upsetting."
The crowd walked around the block, and several police officers kept the two groups separated. Elizabeth walked arm in arm with her daughter on one side and Hector Flores, former LULAC president, on the other. Some chanted, "El pueblo unido jamas sera vencido," the people united cannot be defeated, and "Tim O'Hare must go!"
As the protest came to an end, Elizabeth heard people talking about how O'Hare advertised "Se habla español" on his firm's Web site. When she got home, she looked it up and found they were right. She printed it out, and when she looked again a few days later, the sentence was gone.
In a taped interview with Dallas Blog, O'Hare responded to criticism that he advertised services in Spanish and had clients who were immigrants. In the video he sits on a black leather sofa wearing a black polo shirt with his dachshund, Chester, in his lap.
"I don't see a conflict," he says. "To my knowledge I don't represent a single person who's here illegally...I've never said we shouldn't help people who don't speak Spanish. There are people who speak English but they're more comfortable speaking Spanish, so we offer that as a service, and I think it would be naïve to think you could do business without doing that in Dallas, the way our demographics are set up." He distinguished offering services in Spanish as part of a business from spending tax dollars on government translations.
The September 5 council meeting was packed with residents and reporters, and stars and stripes filled the room. People sported American flag T-shirts and jackets, and a woman in the front row waved a flag throughout the meeting. O'Hare wore a red tie emblazoned with a flag and dotted with white stars. He began the meeting with a prayer. "Father, thank you for this country that we live in and thank you for this city that we live in. I pray for your blessings over this meeting tonight...I ask that you help peace to be maintained and that you help everyone to act with cool, calm reasonableness...in Jesus' name I ask these things. Amen."
The council unanimously passed resolution number 2006-099, "imploring and urging" the federal government to "address citizens' concerns about the negative impact our porous borders are having on our national security and on the quality of life..." Mayor Phelps said they would send it to every city in the state and encourage them to do the same.
Leaving immigration policy to the feds wasn't enough to satisfy O'Hare's supporters. Robin Bernier told the mayor that if he didn't choose to support the citizens of Farmers Branch instead of the "illegal aliens...we will consider a recall for the position of mayor, and I'm serious."
O'Hare told media and supporters he was having the city attorney draft a measure that would pass constitutional muster. So far, though, no formal ordinance has been proposed. O'Hare's bid to slash funding for the Funshine Program, the summer camp he said is certain to serve children who are here illegally, was defeated in mid-September when the council voted to pass the budget that included money for the program.
To Carlos Quintanilla, a LULAC member who lives in Dallas, this means victory. "I think it's tabled," he said of O'Hare's proposals in early October.
O'Hare insisted that wasn't the case. "I already have enough support in the town of Farmers Branch to pass these measures," he told me over the phone in mid-October. It's unclear whether his proposals have enough support on the council, but it's expected to discuss potential ordinances at its November 13 meeting.
On a recent evening, Elizabeth sat at her dining room table with a large gray binder practically bursting with news clippings and printed research she's collected in recent months. There were thick reports with names like "Justice for Immigrants: A Journey of Hope" and "North Texas Immigration 2005: Dallas, A Blueprint for the Future." Many of the immigration facts she's printed from the Internet are from the National Conference of Catholic Bishops. Like O'Hare, much of what she does is motivated by spiritual beliefs. Christians, she says, have an obligation to help the marginalized.
When O'Hare approached her after the September 5 council meeting, they had a brief conversation about faith. He wanted her to know that he'd been misquoted in the press; when he said immigrants live like kings and queens, he said, he was referring to people in Jamaica. They argued about property taxes. A group had formed around them, and as they spoke O'Hare kept taking steps back. At one point, Elizabeth said, "Your behavior isn't very Christlike." He replied that there's nothing "ungodly about upholding the law—this has nothing to do with Christianity."
For Elizabeth, though, it has everything to do with Christianity. "We've become country-club Christians," she says. "It's easy to help people in Africa or Honduras, but what about the people in our own neighborhoods? We have to walk the talk." She shook her head and recalled a man who suggested illegal immigrants leave their citizen children in the United States. "How can you think it's OK to separate families like that? They're not like mice or monkeys."
In her living room, Elizabeth keeps a shrine to St. Joseph with a 3-foot statuette and a velvet-covered prayer kneeler below. She prays for God to use her for something, for anything, "for whatever needs to be done."
Get the This Week's Top Stories Newsletter
Every week we collect the latest news, music and arts stories — along with film and food reviews and the best things to do this week — so that you’ll never miss Observer's biggest stories.
- That's It Then: The Cowboys 2015 Season Gets Put Out of Its Misery
Fri., Dec. 4, 7:30pm
Fri., Dec. 4, 8:00pm
Sat., Dec. 5, 12:00am
Sat., Dec. 5, 12:30pm
- The Cowboys' 5 Biggest Thanksgiving Turkeys
- Live From London: Your Holiday Weekend Weather Apocaforecast