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Protesters Light Up the Border Again

August 24, 1990|PATRICK McDONNELL | TIMES STAFF WRITER

After a hiatus of almost three months, the group called "Light Up the Border" again brought its pro-enforcement message to the U.S-Mexico border Thursday.

This time, according to police estimates, 300 protesters in more than 100 vehicles beamed their headlights southward from Otay Mesa, the flat grassland east of the port of entry at San Ysidro.

Organizers said they wanted to dramatize the tattered state of the border fence in the Otay Mesa area, where the U.S. Border Patrol says hundreds of vehicles transporting illegal immigrants and sometimes drugs enter the United States each month.

"There's hardly any fence here at all," said Muriel Watson, founder of the protest movement.

Watson, who is a Republican Party candidate for the seat now held by state Sen. Wadie P. Deddeh (D-Bonita), called for the construction of additional barriers, possibly even a ditch, to block the illegal traffic.

A U.S. proposal to build a ditch died amid a firestorm of criticism last year, and federal officials say there are no plans for an excavation project. The Mexican government and immigrant advocates condemn the plan as another Berlin Wall. However, U.S. authorities are contemplating building less controversial vehicular barriers.

Conspicuously absent from Thursday's protest were the counterdemonstrators who have marched at past Light Up the Border spectacles, several of which were considerably larger than Thursday's affair.

"We didn't want to give these people any more credibility," said Tess Colby, a member of a group known as the Coalition Without Borders, a pro-immigrant organization opposed to the Light Up tactics.

The Light Up protest--Thursday's was the eighth since the movement began late last year--have garnered considersable support among some U.S. citizens who say they resent the constant tide of illegal immigrants from south of the border.

Critics have assailed the Light Up movement as anti-immigrant hysteria, contending that its supporters seek to blame immigrants for a broad range of problems.

"They just have a simplistic view of immigration," said Roberto Martinez, border representative for a Quaker rights group, who observed the event.

That view was disputed by the protesters, who waved American flags and held now-familiar banners advising policy-makers, "Wake Up, America," among other messages.

"Something has got to be done at this border," said Gordon Jones, a retired Navy chief who took his pickup truck to the protest. "There are all kinds of people coming across. How many Iraqis are out there?" he asked as he looked south toward Tijuana. "How many Libyans?" Jones, like many of those at the event, was a veteran of previous Light Up the Border demonstrations, all of which were held about 5 miles to the west, on Dairy Mart Road--a popular illicit crossing zone for pedestrians.

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