After a heated public meeting Tuesday night that was repeatedly interrupted by boos and applause, the Pahrump Town Board adopted an ordinance that targets illegal immigrants.
The ordinance declares English the town's official language, sets restrictions on flying foreign flags and denies town benefits to undocumented immigrants.
Approval of the ordinance was met with a standing ovation and cheers by many of the approximately 250 people at the meeting.
One man wore a stars and stripes bandana on his head and a T-shirt that said: Speak English or get the (expletive) out.
Another proponent, Elliott Brainard, who identified himself as a naval officer who served during World War II, said, "These people who don't speak English ... take money and support away from our citizens who need it."
Another man, who said he was an Army veteran, said since this is the United States, there should be only one language.
"I go bananas when I go to Wal-Mart, put my credit card in and they ask me if I want English only," he said.
About a dozen audience members spoke during the hour-long public hearing. The comments were about evenly divided for and against the ordinance.
Most of those for the ordinance said the federal government has failed to deal with immigration issues and has forced leaders of cities and towns to take matters into their own hands.
Those who spoke against the ordinance, like Pahrump resident Vicky Parker, were roundly booed by other audience members.
Parker told the board that she was "appalled at the overt Hispano-phobia going on."
"In the United States people have the freedom to speak in any language, not just English," she said.
Lee Rowland, staff attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union of Nevada, was called "evil" by one audience member and was heckled throughout her three-minute comment period.
Rowland told the crowd the treatment was "fine."
"I like a feisty crowd," she said.
Rowland told the board that the ordinance has nothing to do with patriotism, immigration or what sort of language is heard at Wal-Mart.
"What patriotism really means is our Constitution and our Bill of Rights," she said. "Our freedom is based on our ability to express ourselves as Americans."
Rowland said the section of the ordinance that disallows a solo display of a foreign flag is clearly unconstitutional. She warned that was opening the door for litigation.
"If you pass an ordinance that is blatantly in violation of the First Amendment, this town will be on the hook" for a lawsuit, she said.
The board adopted the ordinance with a 3-2 vote.
Richard Billman, the town board chairman, called it unnecessary and unenforceable.
Board member Laurayne Murray said she was bothered by the section that denies benefits to undocumented immigrants without identifying what those benefits are.
Most everyone agreed that not much will change with the ordinance's adoption.
The town's business is already conducted in English, the ordinance regulating the display of flags won't be enforced, and the town has no real "benefits" it can take away because public aid there is administered by the state or the county, officials said.
The ordinance is a stripped down version of a previous proposal by town board member Michael Miraglia. The original version also would have made it illegal to hire, do business with or loan money to illegal immigrants.
Miraglia said he proposed the "English Language and Patriot Affirmation" ordinance after getting tired of encountering people who don't speak English.
He toned down the ordinance a bit because the town doesn't have the money or resources to go after employers and landlords.
Tuesday night, Miraglia said the ordinance was "for all our servicemen and women who died for our country."
But earlier in the day, Lucero Enrriquez, an immigrant from Mexico who lives in Pahrump, said racism is the true inspiration for the ordinance.
The 30-year-old owner of Mi Ranchita market couldn't think of any other reason anyone would want to pass laws that she says target immigrants, documented or not.
"We come here to work, and we work very hard," Enrriquez said in Spanish while ringing up non-Hispanic customers who were buying tacos, fresh guacamole and Mexican pastries.
Enrriquez said she didn't understand why an ordinance was needed to declare English the official language.
"It already is," she said.
Her English is passable but not perfect, she said.
"Some of us don't speak English well," she said of herself and her Hispanic employees. "But a taco is a taco, carne asada is carne asada in Spanish or English. Why should we be forced to speak English?"
Still, Enrriquez said, she will respect any ordinance that is passed. She will even remove the painting of a flag with the colors of Mexico from her building.
"I'll take it off," she said, shaking her head. "But I have to let people know it's a Mexican market somehow."
George Romero, the owner of Romero's Mexican restaurant a few miles away from Mi Ranchita, also blamed racism for the ordinance; but, he said, it was the racism of one man, Michael Miraglia, not the entire town.
"Most people are not in favor of it," said Romero, who helps organize the town's annual Cinco de Mayo festival. "It's just a handful of people who support it. The problem is that others (who would oppose it) don't know about it."
Pahrump as a whole is a very accepting community, he said. But when Romero chose to close his business on May 1 to show support for immigrants' rights, vandals painted slurs on the windows of his restaurant, he said.
"It was nasty, nasty stuff," he said, declining to be more specific.
Romero said one person also left a post-it note with a message: "Don't bite the hand that feeds you."
He said both the official language and flag portions of the ordinance are "silly."
At the last Cinco de Mayo festival, 75 percent of the attendees were non-Hispanic, "And they didn't say, 'Don't wave the Mexican flag.' We did it respectfully with both (the Mexican and U.S.) flags."
Miraglia countered the racism allegations aimed at him by turning them around.
"Who's refusing to speak English? The ones promoting that people should speak their own language are racist," he said.
Town Manager David Richards said the ordinance is meant as a statement "that this is America and we speak English here."
"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," Richards said.
Miraglia said he hoped the ordinance "gets the ball rolling" for other cities.
"We have to start somewhere," he said, "and in the state of Nevada the town of Pahrump is going to be the start."