Legal Immigrants And Illegals Battle It Out In Greenfield, California

This is an utterly fascinating story about illegal immigration not because the issues are all that different than you see elsewhere, but because almost everyone on both sides of the dispute are Latinos.

Nearly all of Greenfield’s 16,300 people are Latino – and yet an ugly conflict has been brewing between longer-time residents and newcomers from another part of Mexico. Established residents say a massive influx of migrants from the Mexican state of Oaxaca has changed their city for the worse.

Over the past decade, the migrants – Triquis, Mixtecs and other indigenous people who streamed from small mountain villages to Greenfield to plant and pick crops – spurred Greenfield’s growth and now make up about a third of the town’s population. (They represent up to 30 percent of farmworkers in California and 17 percent nationwide, the U.S. Department of Labor says.)

They speak their own languages, not Spanish, they keep their own customs, such as arranged marriages, and, despite a longstanding tradition of sanctuary and tolerance in Greenfield, they remain separate.

In a town feeling heavily pressured by the economic crisis and gang activity, the influx of Oaxacans and their lack of understanding of U.S. customs has led to an ethnic clash.

…Rachel Ortiz became so displeased with the new migrants that, after more than five decades in Greenfield, she left her cul-de-sac home and moved to Salinas, 30 miles away.

Ortiz and others in newly-formed community groups complained that the Oaxacan families clustered in overcrowded apartments and garages, threw trash into the streets, thronged city parks, held loud parties. Some urinated in public and were involved in break-ins.

“It’s fine when you live over there in Oaxaca,” said Ortiz, 53, whose grandfather came from Mexico. “But here things are done differently. Here you have to maintain your home, your children, your job and yourself.”

…Ortiz, who works for a seed company on the edge of town, helped form “Beautify Greenfield.” The group’s goal was to clean up graffiti, trash and weeds. Its members decried the dilapidated apartment complexes scattered among neatly trimmed lawns and modest homes, the boarded-up windows splashed with gang insignia and rows of foreclosed homes.

Among Beautify Greenfield’s charges: The new migrants ruined the town financially, “destroyed” its school system, caused violent crimes and were part of gangs, which are pervasive in the Salinas Valley. The migrants, “invaders from the south,” should be deported.

The community groups were, in turn, labeled racist by the press and migrant leaders.

An unfair label, Ortiz said, considering members of Beautify Greenfield are mostly Mexican-American. The group was not against the Oaxacans per say, but just wanted to get rid of blight and crime, she said.

…After a federal immigration raid in 2001, Greenfield city leaders voted in a symbolic sanctuary policy, and for seven years the city held monthly meetings – with the police chief a presiding figure – to help the Oaxacans adapt.

…Greenfield’s police chief Joe Grebmeier says he’s an Anglo with a Mexican heart. He once proclaimed that apartheid-like conditions were prevalent in the Salinas Valley and he would not tolerate them in Greenfield.

Grebmeier, 56, who became chief in 2003, began to hold regular meetings to address Oaxacans’ fear of police and teach them about U.S. law enforcement.

At the meetings, Cruz and others translated into Triqui and Mixtec laws on drunk driving, domestic violence and underage sex. Grebmeier focused on street lights and stop signs, urinating in public and keeping farm animals. Hundreds of indigenous migrants attended.

…In 2009, when a Triqui man was arrested in Greenfield after sending his 14-year-old daughter to marry a neighbor in exchange for beer, meat and cash, the news exploded into a national media sensation. Originally, the man faced charges of human trafficking and was accused of selling his daughter. But Grebmeier later concluded it was a case of arranged marriage and dowry exchange, which he used as a teaching moment. At the meetings, the chief explained that U.S. law prohibits such practices. The man was later deported.

But some locals complained that Grebmeier sheltered Oaxacans from the law. And the Greenfield city council canceled the meetings.

…Because of the chief’s failure to enforce the law, Ortiz and Silveira said, crime increased. Beautify Greenfield kept count: 18 murders in 7 years, 16 unsolved. Grebmeier said those figures included some Greenfield residents killed in other cities. The actual number of homicides in Greenfield was 14 during that time period.

In any event, crime compounded the migrants’ negative impact, Ortiz said, causing some people to move away, leaving Greenfield with foreclosed homes and failed businesses. “If anybody were to say it’s all because of the Oaxacans, they would be wrong,” Ortiz said. “But they’re part of the reason.”

…The increase in violent crime throughout the Salinas Valley, he said, was caused by gangs and their drug wars, not the influx of Oaxacan farmworkers. The homicide rate in nearby Salinas had doubled over the past few years and in 2009 stood over four times the national average. A gang member had even made an unsuccessful run for the Greenfield City Council. The indigenous migrants, Grebmeier said, were most often victims of crime, not criminals.

Maybe it’s just me, but people who have to be taught that they can’t pee in the street or sell their daughters for beer and hamburger aren’t really the sort of people we should want in our country. Moreover, it’s not exactly a shocker that crime would explode when an influx of people with that kind of mentality come into an area. You’re not supposed to point this out though. You’re also not supposed to note that illegal aliens tend to be backwards and uneducated and that where they go, depressed economic conditions and crime usually follow. The surprise here isn’t that illegal aliens are wrecking yet another community; it’s that even Latinos who point out the obvious truth are being smeared as racists.

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