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Nevada town enacts English-only law, bans immigrant benefits

ASSOCIATED PRESS | November 16, 2006

PAHRUMP, Nev. (AP) - Elected officials in this southern Nevada town have adopted an ordinance declaring English the official language, restricting the display of foreign flags and denying town benefits to undocumented immigrants.

A 3-2 Town Board vote drew a standing ovation and cheers late Tuesday from many of the 250 people at a meeting that featured passionate arguments about the proposal.

"We have to start somewhere," said trustee Michael Miraglia, who sponsored the measure targeting illegal immigrants. He said Tuesday it was "for all our servicemen and women who died for our country," and said he hoped it would provide a model for other cities.

Audience members heckled an American Civil Liberties Union of Nevada official and booed Pahrump resident Vicky Parker, who said she was "appalled at the overt Hispano-phobia going on."

Lee Rowland, an ACLU staff lawyer from Las Vegas, told the board the ordinance would invite an expensive lawsuit challenging its constitutionally.

"If you pass an ordinance that is blatantly in violation of the First Amendment, this town will be on the hook," Rowland said.

Town Manager David Richards called the English Language and Patriot Reaffirmation ordinance a statement that "everyone should speak English, and if you are going to move here then you ought to respect the American flag and fly it in prominence."

Some who said they favored the ordinance blamed the federal government for failure to address immigration issues. Most said not much will change with the ordinance's adoption.

Town business is already conducted in English, the ordinance regulating the display of flags won't be enforced, and the town has no real "benefits" to take away because public aid is administered by the state or the county, officials said.

The flag measure requires an American flag to be displayed at least as prominently as a foreign flag.

Pahrump, with 33,241 residents, is the largest town in sprawling Nye County, where about 9 percent the population of 41,302 was Hispanic in 2005, according to the Nevada state demographer.

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