Mayor denigrates own constituency

A recent story published in the Daily Journal/Daily Messenger, said that the Walhalla, S.C.’s mayor claimed an increased wave of illegal immigrants to the area were draining the city’s resources and putting a financial burden on taxpayers. Since I didn’t write the story, I’m not sure whether we called him, or he made contact with us first, but the mayor also claimed recent reports had implied city police were arresting Hispanics for minor traffic violations. While the mayor, Randy Chastain, denied that any racial profiling was taking place in the city, he pointed to an increased amount of graffiti and the recent arrest of an illegal charged with murder as clues that more illegals were flooding the area.

School records did not support this claim:

Given that the total student population in Oconee has hovered around 10,500 for the past 40 years, Hispanics make up 0.07 percent of students in Oconee classrooms.

At James M. Brown Elementary School on Coffee Road in Walhalla, which at one time had one of the largest Latino-student enrollments in the state, their numbers actually declined during the current school year. — “Mayors says illegals abound,” Carlos Garlaza, Daily Journal/Daily Messenger

The school officials in the story took the high ground and simply said they weren’t getting into the immigration debate, that their primary concern was education. Fair enough. Walhalla Principal John Frady did, however, make this statement:

There are radicals that don’t want that sector in the community, and there are others who are more accepting. I happen to be among those that are more accepting.

Chastain, however, at least from the details presented in this story, seems to be in the latter camp. He apparently brought up the city’s supposed illegal immigration problem at his first meeting with city council as mayor and he still seems to be frothing at the mouth about the issue. Here’s Chastain’s most startling statement of the story:

Initially, they came here and were basically to themselves. They didn’t cause much problems. Now they are more brazen; there’s a lot more of them. There’s more now than there’ve ever been. It’s their culture versus the American culture.

Before going further, let me say that I used to work in a city with a comparable Hispanic population. Walhalla, S.C. and Clayton, Ga. both are running at about 15 percent. And even working in that environment in Georgia, never have I come across such a brazen, bigoted statement as this toward Hispanics. Sure, the crankier folks in Georgia thought Mexicans were taking over the place, just like here, but at least they were more tactful about it. Folks, on the whole in Georgia were quite pleasant, at least to your face. But Chastain statement should not only offend Hispanics, white, blacks alike, it should scare them. Chastain essentially denigrated a section, a significant section, of his own constituency! That is remarkable, and not in a good way. Sure, Chastain was speaking in the context of illegal immigrants for the purposes of the story, but in this specific statement, he’s clearly not just talking about illegals. By saying, “It’s their culture versus the American culture,” he’s talking about Hispanics in general, not just illegals.

I’ve already spoken at length about guys like this, so I won’t pummel a dead horse, but I feel speaking out against illegals’ status as non-citizens is fine because they are, after all, breaking the law. But No. 1, please don’t turn their legal issues into character flaws or strip them of their humanity. They are people with real families who really love them somewhere, either in this country, or elsewhere. They have beating hearts, pulses, souls and emotions. While their culture is different from Americans’ in some ways, it’s not better or worse, just different. And by all means, don’t demean members of your own constituency, most of whom are, in fact, legal. I’m glad I’m not part of the mayor’s constituency; if I were, I’d probably relocate post haste.

About the Author

Jeremy Styron
Jeremy Styron
I am a newspaper editor, op-ed columnist and reporter working in the greater Knoxville area. This is a personal blog. Views expressed here are mine and mine alone.

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