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Illegal immigration debate drives events
Activists in Laguna Beach and Anaheim give voice to stances on national issue.
The Orange County Register
Two sides of the immigration battle rallied in separate corners of Orange County on Saturday.

Mexican-American activists met in Anaheim to plan a political strategy aimed at blocking a congressional bill to crack down on illegal immigration.

Meanwhile, about 35 anti-illegal immigration demonstrators greeted ticket holders at the Festival of Arts and Pageant of the Masters in Laguna Beach. They were picketing the festival because some of its proceeds are used by the city to pay for a labor center where many illegal immigrants get day jobs.

"Your ticket supports illegal aliens," said a sign waved by a demonstrator at the labor site, which workers left at midday. Across Laguna Canyon Road, a dozen counter-protesters waved signs, including one that said: "Reject border violence, reject Minutemen," a reference to the anti-illegal immigration group.

Police kept the two sides apart and at peace.

"The day labor site doesn't benefit anybody in Laguna Beach," said Eileen Garcia, a Laguna Beach homemaker who has organized eight demonstrations this year against the labor site. "We're asking the city to give the money to residents."

Garcia said about $28,000 from the arts festival – best known for live actors re-creating artworks such as "The Last Supper" by Leonardo da Vinci – went to the labor site in 2005 to pay for outhouses and other services the job seekers use while waiting for work. Smaller grants from the arts festival benefit city programs for seniors, students and domestic abuse victims.

Garcia and other activists argue that the day labor site encourages illegal immigration by making it easy to find jobs. Their complaints spurred Judicial Watch, a public interest group in Washington, to announce an investigation last week into whether the city of Laguna Beach violated federal laws by providing public services to illegal immigrants.

Supporters of the day labor site, which opened in 1999, say it offers a secure and orderly system for the city to match temporary employers and workers, without regard to anyone's immigration status.

Laguna Beach City Councilwoman Toni Iseman said the demonstrators were protesting in the wrong place if they want to stop illegal immigration.

"Immigration is not a local problem," she said.

"Take it to the people who have the ability to do something about it. Take it to Washington."

In Anaheim, about 120 delegates at a conference of the Mexican-American Political Association and Hermandad Mexicana Latinoamericana, discussed how best to get Washington to hear their point of view.

"We feel besieged and at the same time inspired," said Nativo Lopez, the conference organizer and a former Santa Ana School Board chairman.

"We will continue to express ourselves with more marches, with voter registration drives, with action until we get favorable reform."

Lopez's group is joining a national campaign to survey the opinions of 1 million immigrants, seeking to get their input into Congress' immigration reform debate.

The 18-question Spanish-language survey asks about how people should be able to obtain legal status, guest worker programs and criminal penalties for employers of illegal immigrants.

Lopez said immigrants plan a series of demonstrations, starting on Labor Day, which they hope can match the turnout of rallies that drew hundreds of thousands in Los Angeles and other cities this spring.

Delegates discussed other issues of concern to immigrants: illnesses caused by pollution in the San Joaquin Valley, protecting day labor centers and reviving driver's licenses for illegal immigrants.

"We can change the face of politics in America," said state Sen. Gilbert Cedillo, D-Los Angeles, keynote speaker at the conference.

"And when we change the politics of America, we change the politics of the world."