Deborah Bulkeley, Deseret Morning News (Salt Lake City), October 11, 2005
Jean Lindsay believes illegal immigration is the No. 1 issue facing this country.
Alex Segura points out movement while patrolling the U.S.-Mexico southeast border in Bisbee, Ariz., in April. Another major patrol is planned for October. “It affects our whole way of life, our culture, our education system . . . It’s breaking our laws . . . they won’t speak our language . . . the construction industry has been taken over by illegal aliens,” she said.
The retired Salt Lake decorator isn’t alone in her concerns. She was one of about 150 people who attended a summer Orem forum featuring Rep. Tom Tancredo, R-Colo., a vocal opponent of immigration reform that includes amnesty.
Three Utah groups want to halt illegal immigration — Utahns for Immigration Reform and Enforcement, the Utah Minuteman Project, and the Citizens Council on Illegal Immigration in St. George. Together, they claim about 300 to 500 active members.
Those involved in efforts to curb the tide of illegal immigrants point out that they have no problem with immigration. A few are immigrants themselves, or have relatives who are. They are against “illegal” immigration.
When volunteers from across the country traveled in April to guard a 25-mile section of the Arizona-Mexico border as part of the Minuteman Civil Defense Corps, many civil rights activists called them armed and dangerous vigilantes, with racial motives.
But Utahns who participated compare it to neighborhood watch without racial motivation. They say they brought attention to porous borders and called the border patrol to report illegal crossers.
Organizers said the watch was a success. Smaller-scale border watches have continued, and another large effort to include all four southern border states is happening this month. About 11 Utahns plan to participate.
To the anti-immigrant movement, the solution to the nation’s immigration woes is simple: Seal the border and enforce laws that prohibit hiring illegal immigrants. That would prompt most illegal immigrants to go home, theyy.
Another step: Empower local law officers to become proactive in enforcing immigration laws.
McCormick is typical of the opponents’ demographic — many Utah Minutemen are non-Hispanic, white and senior citizens.
Of the opponents, many who attend meetings and protests don’t want to be publicly identified.
It’s a fear of being labeled a “racist,” or a fear for their safety, Segura says. “Too many people think it’s a criminal element,” he said.
For example, one elderly woman, at a recent meeting, said she believes her neighbors are illegal immigrants, and she fears increasing crime in her neighborhood.
At Tancredo’s speech, a few audience members questioned his strict stand against illegal immigration.
However, the overwhelming majority in the audience, including Utah Valley State College students Jessica Atwood, 18, and Ray Palmer, 19, of Orem, didn’t need to be persuaded.
“We need to protect America against pollution,” Palmer told a reporter.
“Illegal immigrants,” Atwood replied. “Same thing. Yeah.”
The two were apparently joking. Atwood clarified that “America’s full of multiculture. That’s great. There’s a difference between taking jobs Americans need and making a life here.”
But to longtime civil rights activist Archie Archuleta, their words exemplified what he sees as “one great, big, ugly pollutant in this country. It is called racism and ethnocentrism.”
Rep. Tom Tancredo, R-Colo., speaks on immigration issues at a summer forum in Orem. Tancredo is a staunch critic of lax immigration laws. One group formed to halt illegal immigration — Utahns for Immigration Reform and Enforcement — reported that membership jumped after Tancredo’s recent visit. Civil rights groups, including the Anti-Defamation League and Southern Poverty Law Center, have reported that white supremacists support the Minuteman movement — and even joined the April border patrol.
Shaun Walker, chairman of the National Alliance, widely considered a white supremacist organization but which calls itself white separatist, says his organization agrees with the Minutemen on immigration and passes out literature at anti-immigration meetings.
The Utah Minutemen deny that white supremacists have infiltrated their group. They start their meetings with an affirmation against racism. They try to steer attention to a porous border, businesses that hire undocumented workers and politicians who refuse to act.
Segura is frustrated that the immigration debate keeps coming back to the “race card.”
“I’m a Hispanic. This isn’t about race,” Segura said. “This is about law enforcement (officers) not doing their jobs. It’s about businesses pandering to politicians.”
He says he judges people on their character, not their skin color.
Segura and other Minutemen say racism cuts both ways. They point to extremes on the Hispanic side, such as the La Voz de Aztlan (The Voice of Aztlan) Web site. It professes some of the same anti-Semitic beliefs held by white supremacists, they say.
During Minuteman meetings, Segura steers the discussion away from “Mexicans.” When a Minuteman protester told a reporter something about “all these Mexicans taking jobs,” Segura said, “I told him I didn’t want him to come to any more Minuteman meetings or demonstrations.”
“This isn’t about a particular race. We know people from all over the world are illegally in America,” Segura said. “The only thing we advocate is the rule of law.”