English-only, flag ordinance divides growing Nevada town
Associated Press
Nov. 26, 2006

Kathleen Hennessey

PAHRUMP, Nev. - Retiree Sam Jones wakes up each day and puts his graying hair in a ponytail, a .45-caliber pistol on his right hip and the U.S.
Constitution in his back pocket.

He is a man who knows how to make a statement.

So for Jones, and others like him in this desert outpost, it was a no-brainer when town leaders wanted to send a message to its growing immigrant community. "This is America, and in America we speak English,"
Jones, 55, said of his interpretation of Pahrump's new English Language and Patriot Reaffirmation ordinance. "Old Glory has got to be flown on top."

By approving the law this month, a town best known for its proximity to legal brothels thrust itself into the nation's immigration debate.

The growing bedroom community 60 miles down a two-lane road from Las Vegas made English its official language and barred residents from flying a foreign flag by itself.

The new ordinance does little, if anything, to change business in Pahrump.
But it has done much to reveal frustrations simmering beneath the surface of a town in transition.

"This isn't just about Hispanics, it's about anyone who is different, anyone who comes from a different community," said 23-year-old Henry Amaya, a Hispanic who recently moved to Pahrump from California. "People should be able to speak whatever language they want to."

Supporters of Pahrump's new law say its intent is to encourage assimilation, although they acknowledge it's more symbolism than substance. The ordinance provides exceptions for any communication the federal government requires to be translated, meaning few, if any, changes.

The county sheriff said he won't enforce the law.

"You've heard of a paper tiger, this is paper kitten. You can't enforce it,"
Nye County Sheriff Tony DeMeo said. "The flag has been considered a statement of freedom of expression. If someone wants to fly one there's not too much you can do to tell them to take it down."

About 11 percent of Pahrump's 33,241 residents are Hispanic, according to state figures.

The number has been growing steadily, like the town, as retirees and young families cross the desert looking for a better life at a cheaper price. They come from Las Vegas and California. They find inexpensive homes and a quieter lifestyle.

Driven by a Pahrump housing boom, Nye County was the sixth-fastest-growing county in the nation last year.

There are growing pains, DeMeo said.

Nye County had long clung to its dusty Western roots. Prostitution is still legal in what for years had been a farming and ranching outpost and a refuge for loners who disdained the city. It's not uncommon for some here to carry guns openly.

Three members of the Town Board that voted for the measure were not elected, but appointed by the governor.

Michael Miraglia, the ordinance's chief backer, was one of those appointed.
The 67-year-old retired Illinois state worker said the idea for the measure had been percolating for years. TV images of Hispanic protesters carrying Mexican flags at May Day rallies made him boil.

He said he believes Hispanic immigrants are different from people coming from other countries, that they seem to resist assimilating.

Miraglia said he had no idea the issue would spark controversy, but fellow board member Richard Billman, an opponent, said he had no illusions.

"My first reaction? Well, it's probably not repeatable, certainly not printable," Billman said. "I knew the backup material . . . would be something that would polarize the issue."

The measure was approved, 3-2, at a contentious Nov. 14 meeting attended by only a few Hispanic residents.

"It's an approval for people to say vile and degrading things to Hispanics.
It's one of those things that cannot be tolerated," said Fernando Romero, a political activist who attended the meeting.

The American Civil Liberties Union called the section of the law on flag etiquette a violation of the First Amendment and said it may sue.

Newly elected members of the town board who take office next month said they plan to rewrite it.