Valley Park mayor to continue fight against illegal immigrants

Thursday, March 29, 2007

VALLEY PARK, Mo. (AP) -- A suburban St. Louis mayor said he will continue efforts to rid the city of illegal immigrants despite rising legal costs and opposition from other city officials.

Valley Park's Board of Aldermen voted earlier this month to stop enforcing an ordinance aimed at cracking down on landlords who rent to illegal aliens.

Board members said they were concerned about legal costs that currently stand at about $80,000 to defend the measure in court. They also wondered whether Mayor Jeffery Whitteaker had harmed the city's image.

Alderman Dan Adams believes Valley Park should stop trying to tackle immigration law. "This is a problem that is probably a little too large for us," he said.

Whitteaker told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch in Thursday's edition that he will veto the board's vote.

"I'm looking at it as an investment in the future," he said. "I couldn't sleep at night knowing we quit in the middle of the road."

It would take at least six of the eight aldermen to override the mayor's veto.

Since last summer, Valley Park has spent about $80,000 on its city attorney and two outside lawyers to defend the city's stance against illegal immigrants. The city has received $8,000 in donations to help offset the cost, some after it solicited contributions on its Web site.

In July, Whitteaker and the board enacted an ordinance that fined businesses and landlords $500 for hiring and renting to illegal immigrants.

A coalition of lawyers sued the city in September. Their lawsuit, filed on behalf of three landlords and the Metropolitan St. Louis Equal Housing Opportunity Council, argued that the measure hurt businesses, caused racial profiling and promoted housing discrimination.

This month, a judge ruled that the city's original ordinance violated state law. But city leaders had already repealed the ordinance and enacted another.

The new ordinance denies occupancy permits to landlords found renting to illegal immigrants. But the board, worried over the possibility of another legal battle, voted 7-1 on March 19 to repeal that ordinance also.

Linda Martinez, one of the attorneys who sued the city, said the board's vote alleviated her concerns. But if Whitteaker vetoes the board's vote, the city risks another lawsuit, she said.

The issue will likely come up at the board's next meeting on Monday.

Several residents said at the last meeting that the city's efforts to combat illegal immigration had become too costly for a city of 6,500 people and a budget of $2.7 million.

Information from: St. Louis Post-Dispatch:

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