Anti-Illegal Immigration Slate Leads

Anti-illegal immigration slate leads

By John Keilman and Carolyn Starks, Tribune staff reporters. Freelance reporter George Houde contributed to this report
Published April 18, 2007

CARPENTERSVILLE — Advocates of a crackdown on Carpentersville's illegal immigrants appeared on the verge of a victory Tuesday with the election of three like-minded trustees to the six-member Village Board, according to unofficial results.

Victory would mean enough votes to revive a stalled measure that could make life very difficult for undocumented residents in a village that is 40 percent Hispanic.

With all precincts reporting, incumbents Paul Humpfer and Judy Sigwalt were leading, each with about 18 percent of the vote, and first-time candidate Keith Hinz had 17 percent, defeating Sherry Dobson, next-closest, by less than 1 percentage point, according to unofficial returns.

That means the Illegal Alien Immigration Relief Act could soon return to the agenda. The proposal would fine landlords who rent to illegal immigrants and suspend the licenses of businesses that employ them.

Humpfer said the final form of any measure dealing with undocumented residents depends on a court case in Hazleton, Pa., which passed the nation's first local ordinance meant to drive out illegal immigrants.

“I'm hoping that the judge does rule in favor, of course, but if not, we may do something on our own,” he said. “It's really hard to tell.”

The election was the climax of a controversy that began in September, when Humpfer and Sigwalt introduced a proposal to punish those who “aid and abet” illegal immigrants. They said the plan, modeled after the one in Hazleton, was needed to deal with overcrowding and unpaid ambulance bills.

The proposition drew an immediate reaction from those who said it would unfairly target all Hispanics for scrutiny and cripple the village's economy. Carpentersville officials had to postpone discussion of the measure when 3,000 people — almost all of them opposed to the plan — descended on Village Hall to protest.

By a 4-3 vote, trustees later decided to put off consideration of the proposal until a legal fight surrounding the Hazleton ordinance had concluded. Some candidates in Tuesday's election said the vote was a referendum on illegal immigration. Both sides marshaled poll watchers to combat what they expected to be vote fraud or intimidation, but neither camp had much to report.

Bob Sperlazzo of Fox Valley Citizens for Legal Immigration, a group that supports the crackdown ordinance, said he had heard only scattered allegations of non-citizens attempting to vote.

One poll watcher at Faith Lutheran Church on the village's heavily Hispanic east side challenged a woman over an address, but election judges confirmed that she lived there. Another man was challenged over his residency, and an attorney helped him fill out a provisional ballot.

The U.S. Justice Department and the Kane County state's attorney monitored the vote, but County Clerk John Cunningham said no one reported any major problems. Predictions of electoral chaos were “something of a non-issue,” he said.

The immigration uproar didn't seem to have much of an impact on turnout, he said.

Voters who did show up said immigration was at the heart of their decisions. Bart Sitzberger, 40, carried a flier that endorsed the three candidates opposed to illegal immigration.

“I think it needs to be fixed,” Sitzberger said. “Carpentersville has a serious problem.”

Miguel Vega, a 29-year-old welder, said he chose the slate of Jim Frost, Dobson and Laura Zambrano because the proposed ordinance meant some of his friends at work wouldn't move to Carpentersville.

“It would be bad for the village,” he said. “That's the reason I voted for those guys.”