WBBH-TV (Fort Myers, Florida)
March 6, 2017
Fear of deportation pushes some illegal immigrants out of LaBelle
By Dave Elias, Chief political reporter
LABELLE, FL - A big focus in Donald Trump's presidency is cracking down on illegal immigration, and some have left the small town of LaBelle over fears they would be deported.
One immigration attorney said many undocumented residents began leaving Hendry County after Trump was elected because of his strict stance on illegal immigration.
While 50 percent of LaBelle's population is Hispanic, it's not clear how many are there illegally – the loss of any business though can be devastating.
“People started leaving months ago. Ever since Trump got elected,” said immigration attorney Ricardo Skerrett.
The sign reads “Welcome to LaBelle,” but Skerrett said many of his clients don't feel welcome.
“They just don't want to deal with being deported,” Skerrett said.
He said many are returning to their home country instead.
“They would rather go back to their country and live in misery than live in fear over here," he said.
“I think that we would miss them. I think they are lovely people,” said Mary Winters of Labelle.
That was the topic of conversation inside Charley’s Coffee Shop, which sits in the heart of town.
“We're sorry that some of them are illegal,” she said.
Winters lives in the city and said she recently met an undocumented worker.
“He's afraid that knock is going to come on the door, so he doesn't answer the door,” Winters noted.
Laurie Shula understands first hand as her father was an immigrant.
“I can relate to those families who have this fear,” Shula said. "They were terrified that daddy would have to go back to Germany."
Others in LaBelle worry that a mass exodus of immigrants could have a devastating impact on their town.
“The Hispanic population is 50 percent of this community,” Mullins noted.
Mullins believes that if anywhere close to half of the community were to leave, it would have an enormous impact on the economy, as well as the cultural.
Most businesses didn't want to talk about what impact the politically-charged issue would have on an area that heavily supported the Republican.
“I think it would be a disaster,” said Ed Radke.
Some inside the coffee shop did not see a problem in LaBelle. In fact, some said they don't believe any immigrants have left. One group said that it was the media making up this whole story, but they wouldn't talk on camera.
The LaBelle Chamber of Commerce said it had no way of tracking undocumented residents who may have recently moved.