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Rallies Draw Dueling Protesters in Clashes Over Illegal Immigration

A few tense moments mark largely peaceful demonstrations at day laborer hiring sites around the Southland. One man is arrested.

January 08, 2006|Rich Connell and David Haldane | Times Staff Writers

Hundreds of protesters squared off in tense and boisterous confrontations Saturday at Southern California day laborer sites, as activists opposing illegal immigration stepped up a nationwide effort to cut off jobs for undocumented workers.

The protests pitted members of the Minuteman Project and similar groups that seek tighter borders against counter-demonstrators outside home improvement stores in Glendale, Lake Forest, Laguna Beach and Rancho Cucamonga. The demonstrations included drum thumping, shouting and dueling efforts to videotape the opposition.

But the protests were largely peaceful. A protester was arrested in Glendale on suspicion of misdemeanor assault after allegedly shoving an anti-illegal immigration organizer.

The National Day of Protest, planned by a coalition fighting illegal immigration, included demonstrations in several other states. It was the latest in a series aimed at cities that support day laborer hiring sites, as well as contractors, homeowners and others who hire undocumented workers.

In Glendale, at one of the largest protests, about 150 people carrying signs and banners lined the street outside a Home Depot.

The city helped create a day laborer hiring center next to the store where dozens of men, many of them undocumented, regularly gather looking for work.

"They're aiding and abetting ... a crime," said Joseph Turner, executive director of Save Our State. The hiring center operates legally and is needed to address a community problem, city officials say.

Turner carried a large American flag and was accompanied by about 25 supporters. But his group was far outnumbered by opponents, some of whom loudly chanted, "Racists, go home."

"They want to kick whites out of our country," Turner said of some counter-protesters. "Millions of illegal aliens is not good for our society."

Members of the Mexica Movement, which contends that North America's indigenous people were robbed of their land and culture by 16th century immigrants from Europe, engaged in heated nose-to-nose exchanges with Turner and his supporters.

In south Orange County's Lake Forest, across the street from a Ganahl Lumber store where laborers look for work, protesters and counter-protesters in roughly equal numbers engaged in similar sidewalk debates.

"It's immoral to blame people of color" for economic problems, shouted Sharon Tipton of Trabuco Canyon, holding a sign featuring a swastika and the slogan "Heil Gilchrist." It was a reference to Jim Gilchrist, co-founder of the anti-illegal immigrant Minuteman Project. "That's what they did in Nazi Germany, blaming a particular group," she said.

A man who identified himself only as Kelly, and who said he was a Minuteman, shouted back: "The issue has nothing to do with race, but with following the law."

Deborah, an illegal immigration opponent who declined to give her last name because she said she feared reprisals, complained about the laborers who gather near the store.

"You can't walk by here without being harassed," she said, describing herself as a 42-year-old single mother. "I have to warn my kids to stay away."

In Laguna Beach, the two sides -- one of which included Gilchrist -- hurled a steady steam of insults and taunts at each other across Laguna Canyon Road.

Gilchrist, surrounded by about 50 supporters, said the porous border "is an invitation to terrorists who would bring us harm. It's a matter of losing security and losing the rule of law as a governing mechanism. We are literally being invaded and colonized."

Gilchrist drew 25% of the vote last month in an Orange County congressional race, running under the banner of the American Independent Party.

Many day laborers were quiet and frustrated observers of the clashes.

"Hopefully, it will be over soon so we can go back to work," David Gonzalez, a father of two watching the Glendale protest from inside the hiring center, said in Spanish. "I don't understand a lot about politics, but I know we don't come here to hurt anyone."

He said employers "need us. We do the most difficult jobs."

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