The Bellflower chapter of a national Latino organization has drawn heavy criticism from other members of the group for planning a reception to honor the West's top immigration official.
The League of United Latin American Citizens in Bellflower announced plans to pay tribute to Harold W. Ezell, Western regional commissioner of the Immigration and Naturalization Service, for "outstanding service in 'bridging the gap' between the Hispanic community and the INS."
The reception, scheduled for Thursday night at a Costa Mesa Mexican restaurant, has rankled Orange County LULAC leaders, many of whom have called for Ezell's ouster. They have been harshly critical of the INS's apprehension last year of several illegal immigrants inside a church in Orange. They have also complained of continued INS roundups of casual laborers on street corners.
Dinner in Santa Ana's Sphere
The restaurant where the reception for Ezell will be held is on the fringe of territory covered by the Santa Ana LULAC council, the most outspokenly hostile to Ezell of the nine LULAC councils in Orange County.
"Our community cannot be led to believe that LULAC has jumped into bed with Ezell and his 'tigers,' " wrote Zeke Hernandez, president of the Santa Ana council in a letter to state LULAC officials. "Have we not learned our lessons from previous experiences that the INS has mistreated many of our respectable Hispanic brothers and sisters?"
Hernandez asked state LULAC leaders to coordinate action against the reception and the Bellflower group.
But Margaret Pacheco, president of the Bellflower LULAC council, defended the council's decision to honor Ezell.
"He's been very helpful and instrumental in helping the undocumented to become legal," Pacheco said. "I believe he's gone beyond the call of duty in disseminating information and encouraging the people to apply and stay in the process until they become permanent residents."
INS spokesman John Belluardo, speaking on Ezell's behalf, called criticism by Orange County LULAC officials "ludicrous."
"The Bellflower chapter was very involved in our outreach (amnesty) program by sponsoring events in the community," Belluardo said last week. "Mr. Ezell was proud to be a part of that effort."
He added that neither Ezell nor other INS officials have heard from the LULAC leadership about the dispute between the local councils.
The Bellflower LULAC council worked with the immigration agency in publicizing the amnesty program, conducting weekend fairs where applicants could get help in filling out their papers and receiving low-cost medical examinations, Pacheco said.
Wants to Show Its Thanks
And while other LULAC councils may have been critical of the Bellflower group for cooperating so closely with the INS, Pacheco said, her group now wants to show its thanks to Ezell and his staff for their help.
"A lot of times, the head man gets bypassed," Pacheco said. "Harold Ezell is the man who did work with us."
So why not hold the honorary reception in Bellflower and avoid ruffling the feathers of other LULAC members?
"There is not very much around here where we could hold it," Pacheco said. So the $25-per-person reception is scheduled at the El Torito Grill on Anton Boulevard. Actor John Gavin, former U.S. ambassador to Mexico, will be guest speaker.
Richard Jacques, a member of the Bellflower council, said the event is co-sponsored by the LULAC Community Education Group, an organization of LULAC members statewide that is offering English classes to amnesty applicants under Phase 2 of the amnesty program.
The group charges $250 for the course, and it obtained certification from the INS to offer the classes, Jacques said.
"We're doing this to promote a positive working relationship with the INS," he said. "I would just ask the people in LULAC, those other people out there, what did they do to . . . bring these people into the mainstream? It's easy to throw stones."
But Hernandez and other Santa Ana council members are not the only LULAC members angered by the Bellflower group's initiative.
Anita Del Rio, LULAC's vice president for the Far West region, has recommended that the group's national leadership expel former national vice president Jose Pacheco--Margaret Pacheco's husband and the Bellflower council's liaison to the INS--from the league for improper conduct.
"The function is not a sanctioned league activity," Del Rio said, referring to the action of the Bellflower council. "It (the invitation) says the league is honoring him, and it's not."
LULAC's national president, Jose Garcia de Lara, said the executive committee has not yet formally considered its response to the Bellflower council's action. But he said: "We have condemned Harold Ezell, and we're asking for him to be fired, certainly not reappointed. . . . Certainly we don't endorse this activity."
Rose Jurado, LULAC's Orange County district director, said she sent a letter Monday to the Bellflower group, asking its leaders to change its plans. But Margaret Pacheco said that no other LULAC leaders had contacted her so far about canceling or moving the event to another location.
"You expect that (opposition), . . . but we haven't heard anything at all," she said.
Santa Ana council President Hernandez said his group, along with other community members, will picket the event if it goes ahead as scheduled.
Times staff writer James M. Gomez contributed to this story.