Monitor Place, a hilly street just west of Interstate 35, was the first street on Kansas City's West Side where landlords would rent to Hispanics. Many of the red-brick duplexes in this once-proud Irish neighborhood now wave Mexican flags alongside American ones.
A block south of Monitor is Southwest Boulevard, the neighborhood's main thoroughfare, lined with sweet-smelling panaderias and taquerias. Drive west on the boulevard, past the tortilla factories and Boulevard Brewery, and you hit Autobuses Los Paisanos, a run-down bus depot where passengers can catch buses from Kansas City to Chihuahua, Mexico, for $139.
And just down the block from there, for paisanos wanting Mexico without the bus ticket, there was always Club Oasis.
Until its recent demise, Oasis — which opened in 1999 — was the West Side's best cure for Mexican homesickness. Every Sunday night, throngs of mustachioed men in cream-colored cowboy hats drank and danced with stilettoed women until closing time at 3 a.m., when the party poured into the street. On those infamous Sunday nights, cops who patrolled the West Side knew they'd be stationed at or near Oasis — especially in the club's last two years, when they were called to it 160 times.
But on October 24 of last year, the party abruptly ended. Kansas City police officers barreled through the doors, turning the place to chaos. The lights came on, and the music cut out. Cocaine and meth were hurled to the floor like a freak hailstorm, police later reported. Guns were unholstered and scattered across the room. Fake IDs were shoved into potted plants.
It looked at first like a standard "tavern check," during which police look for for underage drinkers and other violations. But for most of the clubbers there that night, what really troubled them was the team that came in behind the police: as many as 15 agents from U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
For those clubgoers who lived nearby, the presence of ICE broke a long-standing treaty between local police and illegal immigrants. The cops who worked the West Side ignored citizenship status altogether, repeatedly vowing to address more pressing problems: gangs, drugs, violence.
But once the ICE agents showed up, everyone knew exactly what was about to happen. When it came to the word immigration, everyone at Oasis was bilingual.
As the manager of Regulated Industries, the agency that monitors Kansas City's 1,100 liquor licenses, Gary Majors maintains files for every bar and club in the city. Most bars' histories are summed up in thin manila folders. But Club Oasis has accumulated its own accordion portfolio stuffed with two fat binders. Flipping through them, you can practically smell the pepper spray and gun smoke.
On a Sunday in March 2009, one report shows, a security guard threw a belligerent man out of the club. The man returned in a pickup a few minutes later, veering onto the sidewalk where the security guard stood post. The driver rammed into the front gate of the club as the guard jumped out of the way.
Four months later, three people were shot outside the club, according to another police report. One of the victims, who was leaving the club at the time, said he saw a man point a black revolver out the window of a moving vehicle and fire three shots toward the club.
In November 2009, a police officer drove past Club Oasis to find a crowd of 20 people fighting in the middle of Southwest Boulevard. The officer told the security guard that if Oasis couldn't keep its patrons in check, police would close the club. The guard said he wished the cops would; the crowd, he admitted, was beyond his control. Just then, a man started swinging his crutches at two others near the entrance. The police officer struggled to arrest the patrons, and the security guard didn't make it any easier: He pepper-sprayed everyone, including the officer, and walked back inside the club.