Steve Wiegand, Sacramento Bee, March 24, 2009
“The bottom line is there is no way to deny these folks regardless of how we feel about them,” Kempton [state Transportation Department chief Will Kempton] said in a meeting with a dozen Latino legislators and representatives of minority organizations. “We will lose in court if we try to eliminate these folks.”
Latino lawmakers are angry that Caltrans issued a litter pickup permit to the San Diego Minutemen for a stretch of Interstate 5 that straddles a major immigration checkpoint south of San Clemente.
The group contends it is a patriotic organization that seeks to ensure U.S. immigration and border security laws are enforced. But critics contend Minutemen are racist vigilantes that use intimidation and harassment against immigrant rights activists.
“If they were people of color,” said Assemblywoman Lori Saldaña, D-San Diego, “they would be labeled a gang.” Saldaña said she has been repeatedly harassed by group members at public events in her district.
In a telephone interview, Minutemen President Jeff Schwilk responded that “we wouldn’t waste five minutes on Lori Saldaña except to respond to her wild charges that lack one bit of truth.”
Meanwhile, the Minutemen are suing several state officials and legislators for allegedly conspiring to deny the group’s free-speech rights by revoking its permit and taking down the sign. A federal judge ordered the permit and sign restored until the case is decided.
Kempton said Monday that the moratorium has resulted in about 1,200 miles of roadside not being cleaned by volunteers.