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Trump blames immigration for budget cuts in a Wisconsin town. City officials disagree

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

At a campaign stop outside Milwaukee this week, former President Donald Trump repeated his unfounded attacks on undocumented immigrants. He broadly portrayed them as dangerous and harmful to the country's economy. It's a characterization he's used often, especially in the political battleground state of Wisconsin. Chuck Quirmbach of member station WUWM visited Whitewater, Wis., to find out what residents there think of those claims.

CHUCK QUIRMBACH, BYLINE: A few cars roll down Main Street in downtown Whitewater past older brick and stone buildings that house many businesses, including a small grocery store that's been open for 35 years, La Tienda Mexicana San Jose.

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JUANA BARAJAS: (Speaking Spanish).

QUIRMBACH: Owner Juana Barajas says business has grown in the last couple of years.

BARAJAS: Yes, much better, like,100%.

QUIRMBACH: Barajas explains that some of the recent immigrants to the city are buying food reminding them of their country of origin. Whitewater officials estimate that in the last two years, between 800 to 1,000 arrivals to the city have come from Central and South America. Recent census estimates indicate this community, an hour southwest of Milwaukee, has a population of nearly 16,000 - 85% white and a growing Latino population of about 10%. The city is perhaps best known in Wisconsin for having a state university campus that adds another 11,000 students during semesters.

But during a rally last month in Green Bay, Donald Trump tried to paint Whitewater as an example of U.S. communities beset with problems, allegedly caused by immigrants taking advantage of President Biden's border policies.

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(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

DONALD TRUMP: Look no further than the small town of Whitewater, Wis. Does anybody know Whitewater?

(CHEERING)

TRUMP: After being inundated with Biden migrants, this tiny town now is a budget shortfall of over $400,000.

QUIRMBACH: Yet if you ask Whitewater city manager John Weidl about the town's budget gap, he says he sees the demand on city services as a separate issue. The shortfall, he says, is complicated, and partly due to a loss of money coming from Wisconsin to maintain state-owned property, like the university.

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JOHN WEIDL: It's tied to two very specific other things that come from the state and not directly from immigration.

QUIRMBACH: Weidl, appointed to the nonpartisan post about 18 months ago, says increasing migration is a good thing.

WEIDL: It's going to make us stronger. I truly believe that. And so my role as a local government administrator and public servant is to figure out what we need to become in order to best provide those services and hopefully carve a pathway to getting there. That's the job at the end of the day - is to serve the public that's here in the best way.

QUIRMBACH: But the city manager's arguments don't satisfy some Trump supporters. Outside the Whitewater post office, Mary Vohs says the uptick in immigration does cause a financial burden.

MARY VOHS: Such a small town that we live in, and I don't think we have the resources to support that. There's better ways to spend our money.

QUIRMBACH: Whether or not voters see immigration as a major concern depends on who you're asking. An NPR/PBS NewsHour/Marist national poll released last month found that 65% of Republicans surveyed say immigration is bad for the economy. But the same poll found that most Democrats surveyed, as well as a slim majority of independents, think immigration is an economic plus. For NPR News, I'm Chuck Quirmbach in Milwaukee.

(SOUNDBITE OF TOMMY GUERRERO'S "EXZEBACHE") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Chuck Quirmbach
Chuck Quirmbach joined WUWM in August, 2018, as Innovation Reporter, covering developments in science, health and business.