Hamblen County residents are in dire straits, they say, because of the rise in Hispanic immigrants, legal and illegal. This past Saturday Congressman David Davis and State Senator Steve Southerland gathered for a fundraising pancake breakfast held at a local VFW in conjunction with a group called T-FIRE to add their voices and promises to the discussion. Congressman Davis has vowed to call in Homeland Security and other federal agencies to address what some see as a critical state of affairs.
WATE-TV filed this report on Saturday's event, quoting some local residents:
"You go to the post office and they don't even know what slot to put their mail in," says Charles Cook.
But many illegal immigrants who have come from Mexico say life in Morristown is good and they have made life better.
"I think it is very good for the United States because we make jobs and pay taxes and help this country," an illegal immigrant told 6 News.
Of course, many inside and outside of Hamblen County disagree and want tougher immigration laws.
"I want to see the borders closed and if you are not an American citizen, then you go back home," says Cook.
Rep. Davis says illegal immigrants and their children in Morristown are overcrowding schools, creating long lines at emergency rooms, and some are even participating in gang activity.
Davis is now calling on federal and state immigration and Homeland Security agents to meet with local police in early March to work out a plan.
"Local law enforcement deals with this issue every day," Davis says. "They feel like it is a federal problem, not a local problem. The federal government needs to step up to the plate."
WVLT-TV noted that just over 100 people attended the event and filed this report and video:
"You know it's costing us an arm and a leg for hospitals, health care, schools,” said Bob McFarling, a Morristown resident. “We have to have special teachers."
"This is America and this county has more Mexican Flags flying in it than any place besides Mexico, I believe” said Teddy Ray Mitchell, another resident."
T-FIRE, an "immigration reform" group founded in Hamblen County, says the problem is that business knowingly hires illegal residents.
In a related story, the Knoxville News Sentinel reports Hamblen County Sheriff Esco Jarnigan says there is a local problem with bootlegging, citing an incident from September of last year:
"In September, Jarnagin and deputies raided a mobile home where the Hispanic residents were selling beer by the can without a permit. Inside they found a stock of beer — nearly three dozen 12-packs, three 30-packs and numerous loose cans.
The two caught running the operation pleaded guilty, getting $100 fines and probation.
"This guy did not have an inflated price. They were just furnishing a service," the sheriff said.
"Nashville police say it isn't apparent that bootleggers are operating in the city. Spokeswoman Kristin Mumford said the department has not arrested anyone for bootlegging since the carding law took effect.
Other Tennessee sheriffs in counties with large immigrant populations also haven't noticed a bootlegging boom.
"We haven't heard of any cases whatsoever," Bedford County Sheriff Randall Boyce said.
He laughed and added, "They haven't thought of it here, probably — and they will soon, I bet."
The 2006 census shows the Hispanic population at 10%, and my own observations and discussions with a wide range of city, county and local leaders have revealed the largest number of Hispanics are from Guatemala, El Salvador, Nicaragua and Honduras. Still, many locals have begun calling Morristown "Little Mexico." So there is a lumping together of many issues, often under one idea and usually painted with a very broad and inaccurate brush.
And by far the most common complaint I hear is that "hearing people speaking another language in my town" is a terrible thing. Yet, some of the largest employers in the county are firms based in Japan, Germany, France, Italy, the U.K. and Canada.
For more background on the current status of attitudes related to immigrants both legal and illegal, I featured several reports from the Houston Chronicle which did a series of articles on Hamblen County in fall of 2006.
A documentary, "Morristown The Movie", which showed recently at UT in Knoxville also provides a look at the immigration issue, which I mentioned previously.
Ironically, some with groups like T-FIRE complain that schools are occupied with teaching English to immigrants -- as if not teaching them were somehow a better idea. Resolving the often irate and angry concerns of residents will be a major task for Rep. Davis' proposal. Will other counties and cites follow his lead?