Edward Sifuentes, North County Times (CA), June 30, 2004
They may not rally in the streets as much as immigrant-rights advocates, but there is a considerable ground-swell of local residents voicing their support for a recent increase in immigration enforcement operations by the U.S. Border Patrol.
While pro-immigrant groups have held numerous rallies and meetings to protest immigration sweeps in North County, Riverside County and San Bernardino County in the last several weeks, opponents of illegal immigration have generally shown their approval of the patrols with letters to newspapers, to lawmakers and to the Border Patrol itself.
But some Border Patrol supporters have begun to organize, and a group rallied earlier this week near an anti-Border Patrol protest in Temecula, waving flags and signs in support of the sweeps.
“There is a lot of public support for what we are doing,” said Steve McPartland, a spokesman for the Border Patrol in San Diego. He said the office has received thousands of emails and has been flooded with phone calls of support.
A roaming, 12-officer squad of Border Patrol officers has arrested 422 illegal immigrants in a series of regular sweeps since June 4. More than half of the immigrants have been arrested in North County. The operations will continue, said agency spokeswoman Gloria Chavez.
Immigrant rights groups say the sweeps amount to racial profiling because the Border Patrol tends to concentrate on mostly-Latino communities and neighborhood stores that cater to Latinos, such as El Tigre in Escondido.
But supporters counter that the officers are merely doing their duty and upholding the nation’s immigration laws.
“People are angry and fed up,” said Linda Woods of Temecula, who supports the Border Patrol. “I have not talked to anyone that doesn’t agree with me.”
Woods said she wrote the Border Patrol to thank them and commend them for their efforts. She and other supporters of the agency said illegal immigration is ruining the country by overtaxing social services, overcrowding schools and refusing to assimilate into American society.
“You have to take a stand,” Woods said.
Most local legislators agree. Immigration authorities in Washington D.C., called for a review of the patrols, but local congressmen have said the sweeps should continue.
“It should continue indefinitely,” said Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Vista, who added that he has been calling for the Border Patrol to pull more officers and resources away from the checkpoints in Temecula and San Clemente.
Issa said about 99 percent of the calls and e-mails to his office regarding immigration are in favor of stricter immigration policies.
On Friday, Undersecretary of U.S. land Security Asa Hutchinson told members of Congress from Southern California that the recent arrests were legal, but violated policy because they were done without advanced authorization from headquarters.
Gloria Chavez, a spokeswoman for the department in Washington, D.C., said the roaming, Temecula-based unit, known as the Mobile Patrol Group, is the only one of its kind in the country. All sectors considering similar operations must first have them approved by U.S. Customs and Border Protection headquarters in Washington.
“‘We will do whatever enforcement activities are necessary to control our nation’s borders,’” Chavez said, quoting an earlier statement from Commissioner Robert Bonner, head of the Border Patrol.
Pro-immigrant rights groups said they would continue their efforts to s the immigration sweeps. The American Friends Service Committee’s San Diego office organized a rally Tuesday at Chicano Park in Barrio Logan.
It was the second rally this week. The group held a rally Monday outside the Border Patrol’s Temecula office, and were greeted by a group of rallying Border Patrol supporters.
Christian Ramirez, director of the organization’s San Diego office, said illegal immigration should not be addressed simply as a law enforcement problem. He added that he was encouraged by talks between Latino lawmakers and officials of the Department of land Security last week.
“I think this sends the message that a serious debate is taking place in Congress,” Ramirez said. “The message is being heard that civil, legal and human rights should be considered.”
Supporters of the roving patrols said they would like to see them expanded. Several said enforcement should not be limited to illegal immigrants, but should also include their employers.
“I would like to see both sides,” said Freeman Sawyer, a former Murrieta resident who attended Monday’s counter-rally in support of the Border Patrol. “I would like to see the scumbag employers that exploit and virtually enslave illegal immigrants prosecuted to the full extent of the law and I want to see the illegal immigrants deported.”
Tell the Border Patrol you support the sweeps: [email protected]