KANSAS CITY, Mo. - Kansas City is not immune to the problems of illegal immigration as the police department and the community have both made efforts to combat it head on.
The area around Southwest Boulevard and Jefferson Street started to see a spike in illegal immigrants from Mexico in the early 2000s. Kansas City police said there would be up to 150 day laborers at a time on the corner looking for work. They also say crime spiked.
"People come down there to rob them because they know they have been working for cash throughout the day or prostitutes would come and try to exploit the situation," Chato Villalobos said, an officer who has an office at the Westside Community Action Network Center, known as CAN.
Thursday, while the rumble of commerce rattled the I-35 bridge overhead, several immigrant workers sat underneath while they wait to find work.
The day laborers are greeted by Villalobos who is wearing street clothes. Local law enforcement is not authorized to do immigration sweeps-- Villalobos knows that.
"We can't arrest our way out of it. That's just the bottom line. We don't have enough handcuffs," he said.
So an organized day labor center spawned at CAN. The idea came from Director Lynda Callon.
It runs on private donations.
"Provide for basics, like a place to use the bathroom, a place to take care of personal hygiene and if possible, at least get one meal," she said.
One day worker we talked with during the story Thursday at the center said we could talk to him. He did ask that we not use his name.
We asked if he was a citizen and he said, “No.” We then asked if he wanted to be and he quickly responded, “Yes.”
He went on to tell us in Spanish that he knows that he must stay out of trouble while in the United States.
Police say since they no longer take a zero tolerance approach-- now they focus on illegal immigrants who commit serious crimes.
Since 2004, officer Villalobos says there have been fewer 911 calls about robbery, auto thefts and even urinating in public.
"Within the first year of starting this approach, the calls for service were reduced by 60 percent at least," Villalobos said.
We also spoke with former minuteman Ed Hayes of Kansas. He said the U.S. has laws that state illegal immigrants from any country should be deported.