Posted on October 8, 2004

Mayor Wants More Sweeps

Joe Vargo, Tim O’leary and Lys Mendez, Press-Enterprise (Riverside, Cal.), Oct. 2

TEMECULA: His “official request” to the Border Patrol draws criticism and raises questions.

TEMECULA — Mayor Mike Naggar has drawn a backlash from day laborers and skepticism from other government officials over his appeal to the Border Patrol to round up illegal immigrants at three places where workers seek day jobs.

A Border Patrol spokesman said Naggar’s request would have to be reviewed and analyzed before any action could be taken.

In his Sept. 14 letter to the Border Patrol’s Temecula office, Naggar said several citizens had complained and that the large numbers of “suspected illegal aliens” should prompt additional patrols.

The locations he cited were in Temecula’s historic downtown district near Interstate 15 and Rancho California Road and in residential areas leading to the Wine Country east of town.

“Please consider this an official request to patrol these areas and take the appropriate actions necessary to ensure that these areas are clear of illegal immigrants,” Naggar wrote.

Not a High Priority

A representative of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, the investigative arm of the Department of Homeland Security, said rousting small groups of immigrant laborers is not a high priority.

“What do you really accomplish if you pick up one or two individuals?” said Virginia Kice from her office in Laguna Niguel. “How does that address the root causes that bring on undocumented immigration?”

Kice said her agency concentrates on criminal gangs and syndicates that traffic in human smuggling and networks that help undocumented immigrants obtain work papers and benefit forms. Those efforts are more likely to curb undocumented immigration in the long run, Kice said.

Kice said it’s not unheard of for a government official to request help from immigration authorities. But as with any government agency, she said, it’s a matter of managing requests for action with available resources.

Vibiana Andrade, an attorney with the Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund, called Naggar’s actions “troubling, really troubling.” She said people have a First Amendment right to stand on street corners and solicit work. By asking the Border Patrol to crack down, Naggar is asking the federal government to violate people’s federal rights, she said.

“Coming from a mayor, that amounts to lawlessness,” Andrade said.

‘An Unusual Request’

An Inland immigration attorney said Naggar’s actions are unusual for a California politician and inappropriate for an elected official so many miles from the border.

“I’m not aware of any elected official in the state of California making such a request. I am aware perhaps other states, like Arizona, might make the request . . . at the border,” said Carrye Washington. “Being almost 100 miles away from the border, it seems like an unusual request.”

Response From Workers

About a dozen laborers gathered at the Old Town site Friday morning reacted sharply to Naggar’s letter as they waited for work.

Naggar is misguided, the laborers said, because most workers who gather there are U.S. citizens who are only trying to survive and feed their families. They say they provide a service to the community by doing landscaping, construction and other work on a day-to-day basis for people who cannot do it themselves or afford to pay steady employees.

They said police often hassle them because some are homeless, and Border Patrol searches would be another layer of law enforcement intrusion.

“Some people feed their families. I think it’s a right we have,” said Richard Pangas, 43, who said he has lived in the area and sought work at the corner for the past 2½ years.

“We haven’t hurt anybody. We just ask that people let us be. My God, all we’re doing is trying to survive,” he said.

Pangas said the mayor’s letter is another example of the strong picking on the weakest members of society.

“He doesn’t want to know we exist,” he said.

Other day laborers said companies that rent moving trucks often refer customers to the corner for day help. The workers said temporary employment agencies typically take a share of the money they earn when they are sent out on jobs.

Naggar rejected the criticism.

“I don’t think there’s any shooting from the hip,” Naggar said by telephone Friday afternoon. “It’s my duty as a mayor or councilman to contact the proper authorities based on those complaints.”

Complaints From Citizens

He said his letter was based on five to eight telephone and e-mails complaints he received after an Aug. 13 community forum featuring U.S. Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Vista, and Asa Hutchinson, undersecretary for border and transportation security, that attracted more than 1,000 angry residents demanding more sweeps and tougher immigration enforcement.

Naggar said the calls and e-mails cited concerns over gatherings at the three locations and potential problems that could occur there. Naggar said he could not recall the names of the residents who contacted him or elaborate further because it is just one of many issues he has juggled recently.

At the forum, residents were angry because sweeps conducted by a 12-member Border Patrol team based in Temecula were stopped. The agents arrested more than 400 undocumented immigrants over two weekends in June.

Carlos Giralt-Cabrales, the Mexican consul in San Bernardino, said the consulate will monitor the situation in Temecula in the aftermath of Naggar’s letter and take action if the rights of any Mexican citizens are violated. He was unaware of any requests by other Inland cities to request immigration sweeps.

“Workers come here because they are needed in the United States,” Giralt-Cabrales said. “We need to understand this problem in a bigger perspective.”

Naggar’s letter raised eyebrows and drew skepticism from several other government leaders, including fellow Temecula City Council members.

Councilman Ron Roberts said he never wrote such a letter during his terms as Temecula’s mayor.

“I would’ve had council approval before I sent such a letter,” he said. “Who’s to say they (day laborers) are illegal? You just can’t look at someone and know.”

Representatives from Canyon Lake, Perris, Lake Elsinore, Riverside, Hemet, Rancho Mirage, Palm Springs, Cathedral City and La Quinta said they have never requested immigration sweeps.