EL CENIZO, Texas -- The border town of El Cenizo, whose population is heavily Hispanic, has adopted Spanish as its official language and declared the community a safe haven for illegal immigrants, officials said Friday.

The ramshackle town of 7,800 people is located just south of Laredo, Texas, across the Rio Grande River from Mexico.Mayor Rafael Rodriguez told Reuters that he and most of the town's residents speak only Spanish. Many are first-generation immigrants, both legal and illegal. Rodriguez himself crossed into the United States illegally from Mexico but became a U.S. citizen in 1995.

"In past administrations, the meetings were done in English and they did not explain anything," Rodriguez said.

The result, he said, was widespread apathy.

The City Council voted last week to make Spanish, not English, the town's official language. That means that town business will be conducted in Spanish, which then will be translated into English for official documents to meet the requirements of Texas law.

Rodriguez says the City Council's intent was not to usurp English or create divisions but to make local government more accessible to the town's residents.

"What we are looking for is that the people of the community who attend the meetings and who only speak Spanish be able to voice their opinions," Rodriguez said.