Babette Herrmann, Valley News Network (Temecula, Cal.), October 24, 2004
Just about every Saturday morning a group of peaceful demonstrators congregate on the corner of Rancho California and Ynez Roads in front of the Temecula Duck Pond. They pass out wallet-sized slips of papers with links to anti-illegal immigration Web sites and rally for drivers to “Honk if they are an American.”
This particular morning, Oct. 16, was different, as television camera crews and about 40 demonstrators flocked to a different area — this time near the intersection of Butterfield Stage and Rancho California Roads and later at the Duck Pond.
Local citizens and residents from as far as Costa Mesa gathered in support of Temecula Mayor Mike Naggar, who contacted the US Border Patrol last month on behalf of complaints he received about day laborers congregating each morning near Butterfield Stage and Rancho California Roads and various other locations.
One picket sign read “Right on, Temecula Mayor,” while another sign addressed an issue passionate to many demonstrators: “Why hire illegals? This American can pick fruits, plant flowers and install lawn sprinklers. Stop being cheap and start hiring Americans.”
“I am only doing my job,” the mayor said. “I want every law in the City of Temecula being obeyed.”
Naggar said he filed a request in September asking US Border Patrol officers to investigate the day laborers. The requests, he said, came on the heels of a Temecula town hall meeting held in August that focused on illegal immigration.
Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Vista) and Asa Hutchinson, undersecretary for the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), held the meeting to garner public feedback on the hot button issue. A bulk of the more than 1,000 people who attended were angry with the DHS for admonishing border patrol agents when they arrested more than 400 illegal immigrants in June between Ontario to Escondido in raids known as “sweeps.” Officials said the border patrol needs consent from the agency’s top officials to conduct raids.
As for the Saturday morning demonstrators, many of them belong to the grassroots organization founded by Arne Chandler called the Citizens’ Alliance for a Secure America (CASA). CASA supports the resumption of illegal immigration sweeps and targets Sacramento legislators who support relaxed immigration laws by any means of communication possible.
“We want them removed, because if you don’t they will grow,” he said. “There is support by the city to not have these corner congregations grow.”
Chandler said he started the organization after the sweeps came to a halt. The first rally was held at the Temecula border station in July, which he said drew about 400 people. Besides spreading the word on street corners, he also said members of the group form lists so supporters can boycott businesses that hire illegal immigrants and the banks that allow people to open accounts without legal identification.
“All we’re asking is for [law enforcement] to enforce the laws on the books,” he said.
Proponents also claim from observation that the border patrol hasn’t acted on Naggar’s tip.
Attempts to reach the Temecula border station officers for comment were unsuccessful.
But tapping an agency to sweep day laborer hangouts fails to generate an easy solution. Virginia Kice, spokeswoman for US Immigration and Customs Enforcement, said people need to realize that not all day laborers are here illegally, and many have work authorization permits.
“There’s a lot of people that don’t have the skills or education to hold permanent work,” she said.
Kice said the agency tries to focus its limited resources on going after individuals in the business of creating fraudulent documentation or smuggling immigrants into the country for slave labor or sexual slavery.
Unless those waiting on the corner create a sanitation problem or break the law, Kice explained that her organization doesn’t get involved with the day laborer issue. “Unless there is an obvious concern to smuggling or terrorism, we wouldn’t get involved,” she said.
The Department of Homeland Security absorbed the US Border Patrol agency in March 2003, said T.J. Bonner, president of the National Border Patrol Council. Since the change, Bonner explained that bureaucratic red tape has gotten in the way of agents being able to carry out their jobs. “It has been anything but a smooth transition,” he said.
Bonner said border patrol officers are angry that they are forbidden from looking into tips, such as the one from Naggar. Officers have been reduced to focusing on the border checkpoints and leaving the interior sections alone. He said that despite the efforts at the border, thousands of illegal immigrants slip through the cracks, creating the need for interior enforcement.
“It’s not racial profiling. It’s acting on good, sound law enforcement,” he said. “It’s about asking a simple question … like, ‘What are you doing hanging around here?’”
Both Kice and Bonner agreed that officers from their agencies have the right to ask people for identification without provocation.
Bonner confirmed that in order for agents to enforce immigration laws in the interior sections of the Golden State, they must first seek the approval from the Department of Homeland Security in Washington, DC. “Some of the decisions coming from the ivory towers in Washington are baffling to those working the front lines,” he said.
Mayor Naggar did not attend Saturday’s rally.