Valley Park to Mexican immigrants: "Adios, illegals!"

A small-town mayor's plan creates one big controversy.

Whenever Valley Park Mayor Jeffery Whitteaker begins thinking about illegal immigration — something he does quite often — his mind fills with unpleasant visions of Mexicans pouring into town.

"My main issue is overcrowding," says Whitteaker, a boisterous good old boy who admires Bill Clinton ("He's so good he could sell a blind man a pair of sunglasses") and drives a truck for a local excavation company. "You got one guy and his wife that settle down here, have a couple kids, and before long you have Cousin Puerto Rico and Taco Whoever moving in. They say it's their cousins, but I don't really think they're all related. You see fifteen cars in front of one house — that's pretty suspicious."

It's a Friday afternoon in February, and Whitteaker is enjoying a lunch of hamburger pizza and Bud Light at JJ Twigs Pizza & Pub in Valley Park, a predominantly white enclave twenty miles southwest of St. Louis. It's too cold to tackle his day-job chores, so instead the 47-year-old Democrat attends to municipal business or, as he likes to put it, "fathering the city."

Valley Park Mayor Jeffery Whitteaker
Jennifer Silverberg
Valley Park Mayor Jeffery Whitteaker
Withering park-land near the old glass factory seen from atop the town's new $50-million levy.
Jennifer Silverberg
Withering park-land near the old glass factory seen from atop the town's new $50-million levy.

Ridding Valley Park of illegal immigrants — especially of the Hispanic variety — has been Whitteaker's largest endeavor. Last July the mayor orchestrated the Valley Park Board of Aldermen's unanimous passage of a controversial ordinance declaring that "illegal immigration leads to higher crime rates, contributes to overcrowded classrooms and failing schools, and destroys our neighborhoods, and diminishes our overall quality of life."

Without debate, questions or research, the all-white, all-male board ceded to Whitteaker's demand to make English the city's official language. No one showed up to protest.

The measure also imposes $500 fines on landlords and employers who dare to rent homes or offer jobs to illegal immigrants — all of this, despite the fact that barely 2 percent of Valley Park's 6,518 residents are Hispanic. Moreover, there's no evidence that the city's immigrant population is growing. At the same time, crime rates are at an all-time low, and school officials haven't a clue what prompted claims of overcrowding.

In any case, adopting the ordinance "seemed like a no-brainer" to Alderman Mike White, who raises laboratory mice for the Washington University School of Medicine.

Still, it caught most residents by surprise.

"I was kind of miffed at Jeff that he didn't call me before doing this," reports Ed Sidwell, a Valley Park landlord.

People like 42-year-old Carla Peeler and her boyfriend, a retired trucker named Lionel Hall, were thrilled by Whitteaker's maneuver. They claim "at least eighteen" Mexicans lived in the house behind theirs and, according to Peeler, were always outside "playing loud music, drinking beer, being obnoxious — yelling stuff, talking Spanish, where you couldn't understand them and shit."

"I like the mayor for what he did," says Hall. "He put these people in line."

Other longtime residents were appalled, saying the measure has badly divided the community. Says Karen Ford: "I think it was an absolute embarrassment."

"A resolution to Congress would have made a lot more sense," complains Martha Rodriguez, a retired nurse who hopes to become the city's first Hispanic alderman.

The morning after the mayor signed the new law, a geyser of e-mails, letters and voicemails from across the nation — 700 and counting, by Whitteaker's current calculation — began flooding in.

"Soy un vida mexicano en Valley Park," wrote a man named Señor Bold. "Digo cogida el alcalde-carbone [sic] estupido. Si ese asshole quisiera que pagara impuestos, utilizaré la forma espanola." ("I am a Mexican guy in Valley Park. I say fuck the stupid-jerk mayor. If this asshole wants me to pay taxes, I'll use the Spanish form.")

After finishing his pizza, the mayor relishes the chance to respond to some of the surly correspondence.

"Mr. mayor your full of crap and you know it," writes one Ray Guzman, "and I assure you that as an American-born Mexican I will never come thru your city or state, my money is good everywhere but your not worthy."

Sniffs Whitteaker: "I'd like to send him a thank-you note — don't come in. We'll survive without his money."

"I wonder what Jesus would think about Valley Park's latest law that verges on discrimination of Hispanics?" asks Deborah Conley.

"I wish I knew" is the mayor's flippant reply. "I would think he'd send me a sign or something."

"My fiancée and I own a $280,000 home in Valley Park and have the nicest yard in the city," writes Lance Manion. "We had always planned to move out of Valley Park by the time our unborn children reached school age, but thanks to you, we put our house on the market this morning..... Thanks for decreasing my property value, because the trailer trash will want to move in there now....."

Whitteaker: "Is he talking about Hispanics?"

"At least have the balls to say why you really don't want undocumented immigrants," goads Sean Bryant.

"Hmm," Whitteaker muses.

Other critics accuse the first-term mayor and twelve-year alderman of blatant racism, to which he responds, "If I'm a racist-pig-Mexican-hater, how do I keep getting elected? Why is the state of Missouri preparing an ordinance similar to ours? Why did George Bush on national television put a plus on crackdowns, too?"

Next Page »