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

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

In the middle of a conversation he sets down his beer and, apropos of nothing, quips, "You know what they say about draft beer, right? It makes you horny." He lets out a throaty laugh.

Whitteaker says he's been thinking about cracking down on illegal immigrants for some time — at least since the day in August 2004 when the Del Abra family moved into his neighborhood, right around the corner from his sister and mother.

The Del Abras are Mexican and have lived in the U.S. for twenty years. Husband and wife Santos and Monica have green cards, and their six children were all born here. According to their former landlords (the Del Abras now own the home), they were excellent tenants.

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.

The family wasn't in their new house more than a day when Whitteaker, then an alderman, received a call from an irate neighbor saying she was afraid the Del Abra kids — all of them seven or younger — would trespass onto her property and jump into her pool.

Whitteaker brought up the complaint at a board of aldermen meeting the next night. "Do they have green cards?" he asked the St. Louis County Police Lieutenant Scott Melies.

A fellow alderman laughed.

"I'm serious," Whitteaker protested, throwing up his arms. "Who checks that?"

Eric Martin, the city attorney, replied, "The employer."

Whitteaker shot back, incredulously: "For little kids?"

For the next two years, Whitteaker says, he continued to receive the occasional complaint from one of the Del Abras' neighbors. "And [my sister] is constantly complaining about them. Their kids are in the street, and they don't have any grass in their front yard. It's all mud and trampled, like cows went over it."

Despite his ranting, Whitteaker concedes he's never spoken to Santos Del Abra or any other Mexican living in Valley Park.

His only real contact with Mexican people, in fact, came during a family vacation a few years ago when their cruise ship stopped at Cozumel for a day. Whitteaker rented a car and did a loop of the town, sightseeing and bar-hopping. But on the way back to the boat, he got lost, and he couldn't find anyone who spoke English.

"The guys who'd given me directions, they told me it was real easy, a simple circle, but they lied," he remembers. "We just barely made it back to the dock before the ship left."

The story gives Whitteaker pause. He wonders aloud for a minute what it must be like for Mexicans who come to Valley Park. "That must be hard," he says. "I would never move to Mexico. Heck, I would never move to Boston. That would be scary."

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