Laguna Beach Tradition Becomes Battleground in Immigration Debate

Gillian Flaccus, AP, Jan. 24, 2006

LAGUNA BEACH, Calif.—For 40 years, this quaint city overlooking the Pacific has united around its annual Patriots’ Day Parade, a celebration of school marching bands, charities, civic groups and military personnel.

This year, however, the small-town tradition has become an unlikely battlefield in the national debate over illegal immigration.

The nonprofit group that runs the parade recently rejected a float sponsored by the Minuteman Project, a self-styled border patrol run by illegal immigration opponent Jim Gilchrist. Now, his group is threatening legal action on free-speech and discrimination grounds and has gone to the airwaves to criticize the liberal city and its parade.

Despite a stream of e-mails and phone calls from Minuteman supporters, however, the parade committee reaffirmed their position in a three-hour meeting late Monday and voted unanimously to ban the Minuteman Project on political grounds.

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The issue began when two members of the Minuteman Project who live in Laguna Beach filled out an application to enter a float in the March 4 parade on behalf of their group.

The parade committee, however, turned down the application because it found the group’s participation would violate its bylaws, which ban groups with a religious or political affiliation or message. The association, which isn’t affiliated with the city, puts on the show each year for about $10,000, Quilter said.

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Gilchrist maintains that the Minuteman Project isn’t political and that many of the parade’s past and current entrants violate the same rule, including a gay men’s choir, a peace group and a local center that runs a day laborer center on the city’s outskirts. Because of these inconsistencies, he said, his group has retained an attorney and plans to file a lawsuit alleging discrimination and violation of free speech by the end of the week.

“They say the Minuteman Project is controversial, but so is the gay group and so is the vigil for peace. Every time I go down to the Main Beach there, I see them protesting” against the Iraq war, said Gilchrist, who is also a former Marine. “I have no objection to any of these other groups, so why are they discriminating against us?”

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