A line was drawn in the sand Thursday night and now the town must walk that line like the tightrope it is.
The Payson Town Council, in a 5-2 vote, passed an immigration ordinance requiring business owners to sign an affidavit stating they will not hire undocumented workers.
This passage comes at a time when another small town, Hazleton, Pa. (population 23,329 in the 2000 census), is in court defending its "Illegal Immigration Relief Act Ordinance."
At Thursday night's council meeting, Ed Blair asked for an explanation of the difference between the Payson ordinance and the Hazleton ordinance. (You can read the complete Hazleton ordinance online in the Opinion section at payson.com.)
The first difference that stands out for us is the tone and intent.
The Hazleton ordinance opens with this statement, "Illegal immigration leads to higher crime rates, contributes to overcrowded classrooms and failing schools, subjects our hospitals to fiscal hardship and legal residents to substandard quality of care and destroys neighborhoods and diminishes our overall quality of life."
This is the "spirit of the law" in Hazleton.
In Payson, the mayor has said that our ordinance was put in place to "level the playing field."
That intent is one of the ways our ordinance differs from the one in Pennsylvania. But that line between the intention and implementation is where we see potential problems.
There is a fine line between enforcing the laws and racial profiling.
We ask that we move forward carefully as this ordinance is implemented.
We do not want to see a well-meaning piece of legislation become an unintended excuse for a witch hunt and an embarrassing chapter in our local history.
At the Payson Roundup, we have heard firsthand stories from people of Latin descent -- legal residents of the United States -- who feel they are being treated differently since the local immigration ordinance was proposed.
Over the next couple of weeks, the Roundup will feature members of the Latino community who are here legally and are contributing members of our town.
We will run these stories as a reminder that this ordinance is not about skin color or race. Because someone speaks Spanish or is from Mexico, does not mean that he or she is here illegally or does not have the best interests of this community at heart.
On March 14, the East Valley Tribune ran an article, "Mesa cop examines growth of hate groups." For 10 years, Mesa Police Department detective Matt Browning has been infiltrating hate groups. He said that the debate over illegal immigration has fueled activity among white supremacist groups in Arizona.
We bring this up, not because we believe that kind of hate is in the heart of our community.
We only ask that the citizens of Payson continually examine the intent and be alert to unintended consequences as we move forward with the enforcement of this immigration ordinance.