Marisa Maldonado, Windsor Heights Herald (NJ), April 8, 2005
A group known for fighting against illegal immigrants was asked to leave a Washington Township diner while a Hispanic civil rights conference took place in the borough on Sunday, Washington police said.
The New Jersey Division of Civil Rights and the Mercer County Hispanic Association sponsored a civil rights conference for Hispanics on Sunday at St. Anthony of Padua Church. The meeting came in the wake of a series of raids for illegal immigrants in the area by the federal Bureau of Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
Hightstown Mayor Robert Patten said he found out about the meeting of the United Patriots of America through a friend in Freehold on Sunday. He then notified the Hightstown Police Department because he saw it as his duty to inform them about any potential problems, he said.
Ron Bass, president of the United Patriots of America, said his group initially wanted to meet in Freehold to discuss projects related to guarding the border between the United States and Mexico as well as the formation of a New Jersey immigration group. But the owner of the hall in Freehold asked them not to meet there when picketers threatened to protest the event.
The group then rescheduled for the USA Country Diner on Route 130 in Washington Township, but Mr. Bass speculated that the protesters found out about the event through the Internet.
“When we arranged the space with the gentleman, I had told them there could be some problems,” Mr. Bass said. “I didn’t want the man to be surprised.”
At 3:07 p.m. four Washington police officers arrived at the scene to find picketers holding signs such as “Immigrants are allowed here,” said Detective Vince Estelle of the Washington police. The police asked both the picketers and the United Patriots, who were described by Detective Estelle as a group that does not want to allow immigrants into the country, to leave, he said.
Torry Watkins, a resident of Hightstown, said he was concerned that borough officials had violated the United Patriots’ civil rights by becoming involved.
“Even vigilantes have First Amendment rights,” said Torry Watkins, a Hightstown resident, at Monday’s Borough Council meeting.
[Editor’s Note: For more on this story, click here.]