Video: Town tries to stave off illegal immigrants

By Correspondent
NBC News
updated 8/23/2006 7:25:44 PM ET 2006-08-23T23:25:44

The sounds of daily life in Valley Park are varied — trains, front-end loaders — unless you're in the modest apartment of a young family that left suddenly last week. There, silence permeates the space.

"They told me they had to go," says apartment complex manager Terry Cooper. "Little Emme said, ‘Terry, please let me stay in your casa with you.’ That broke my heart right there."

The family, illegal immigrants, spent four years in this town of 6,500 near St. Louis, making a home and making friends.

"They're like my family," Cooper says. "They all were."

But the mayor saw a potential problem.

Despite no great influx of illegal immigrants and what the mayor himself admits has been little trouble, he decided his town would tackle an issue he says the federal government has fumbled.

"We're concerned that Valley Park could wind up as a haven for illegal immigrants," Valley Park Mayor Jeffery Whitteaker says. "We're out to stop that from happening."

While the targets here in Valley Park are illegal immigrants, the city is going after businesses hiring them and the landlords who house them.

Businesses stand to lose their licenses. And property owners like Stephanie Reynolds face $500 fines unless she evicts a family that in a decade has never been late with the rent.

"I can't see that that taking these people and moving them out of Valley Park is going to do any justice," says Reynolds.

Residents like a woman who slipped into this country illegally from Mexico eight years ago.

"I love here, I love United States, I want to stay here," she says.

Those charged with enforcing the rules — landlords and employers — don't want the job.

"Mr. President, Congress, Senate, get busy and help us solve this problem," landlord Ed Sidwell says.

A small town struggling to define boundaries, far from any border.

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