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  1. #1
    Senior Member concernedmother's Avatar
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    Mar 2006

    Immigration at a crossroad: Vista residents coping

    Immigration at a crossroads: Vista residents cope with raids, rallies and rogues

    By: EDWARD SIFUENTES - Staff Writer

    VISTA ---- With rallies outside City Hall, Minutemen and pro-immigrant activists squaring off on street corners and teens hurling rocks at deputies in riot gear, this city of about 90,000 residents has caught more than its share of media attention in recent months.

    It has become a flash point for a heated countywide, even national, debate on immigration.

    And in the neighborhoods beyond the well-publicized street corners, after the news cameras are packed up, people who call Vista home ---- parents, activists, city leaders and day laborers, whose presence has attracted so much attention, ---- say the increasing tension is affecting the city in different ways.

    "More than anything, I'm scared to come to the park," said Maria Hernandez, 58, who looked after her two young grandchildren at Raintree Park on Wednesday. "But kids get restless at home and they don't understand."

    Opinion varies

    Much of the tension in Vista revolves around day laborers who stand on corners looking for work and the groups trying to shut their gathering spots down.

    Mike Spencer, a Vista resident who helped found one of the anti-illegal immigrant groups, said he is concerned about the high levels of uncontrolled immigration into the country and into Vista. His group, the Vista Citizens Brigade, routinely spies on employers looking to hire day laborers at the corner of South Santa Fe and Escondido avenues.

    "I soon won't be able to communicate in the language that the Constitution was written in," Spencer said.

    Dozens of day laborers, most of whom are Latino, have gathered for years at the corner and others throughout North County looking for work. The men say there are different reasons why they seek work in that manner. Some say they get higher wages, others say they want to supplement their income from other jobs and others say they are not legally allowed to work in the country.

    Spencer and other activists say they believe most of the men are in the country illegally and avoid paying taxes by offering themselves as day laborers. Members of the group and others, such as the San Diego Minutemen, videotape and photograph would-be employers and their license plates.

    Day laborers who gather on the corner said last week that work offers have dropped dramatically due to the anti-illegal immigration activists, who they say are racially motivated.

    "They are nothing but racists who don't want us on the corner," said Jose Nieto, a 71-year-old day laborer who said he is a legal resident. "There is no work right now, and this is a time when there should be a lot of work. There are people here who haven't worked in 15 days."

    Nieto said he works as a day laborer because businesses will not hire him due to his age.

    Anti-illegal immigration activists reject the criticism that their efforts are racially motivated. They say their ranks include nonwhites.

    "If they were racists, they would not have accepted me into their group," said Claudia Spencer, a Mexican immigrant and anti-illegal immigration activist who is married to Mike Spencer. "We oppose illegal immigration completely."

    Political action

    Nieto said he plans to leave Vista soon to stay with family in Boston. But many other day laborers said they will stubbornly hold on to their corner as long as they can. Immigrant rights activists are trying to help them.

    Members of groups of pro-immigrant activists, including the Coalition for Justice, Peace and Dignity, regularly stand by day laborers videotaping and photographing their opponents. The clash prompted city leaders into action.

    On Tuesday, the Vista City Council voted to adopt a law that requires employers to register with the city before hiring day laborers. Council members said the law, which anti-illegal immigrants support, aims to curb abuses against day laborers ---- including employers who skip out on workers without paying them.

    Council members reject criticisms from Latinos that the law is biased against Latino workers.

    "The ordinance is not about race," said Councilman Frank Lopez. "It's to protect the day laborers in this community."

    Pro-immigrant advocates say the new law, which was drafted by City Attorney Darold Pieper without prior public input, is a thinly veiled attempt to remove the day workers.

    "Everyone but the city attorney seems to know what this is really about," said Claudia Smith, a longtime immigrant rights activist.

    The day labor law comes in the midst of a national debate on immigration. Congressional leaders plan a series of hearings in the coming weeks in San Diego and throughout the country on proposed immigration reform plans.

    Leaders in the U.S. House and Senate are at loggerheads over widely differing legislation. The House measure strongly favors tough enforcement efforts, while the Senate would provide a guest-worker program.

    In Vista, Tina Jillings, who heads the Coalition of Justice, Peace and Dignity, said the city's day labor law also comes on the heels of increasing cooperation between local law enforcement and immigration enforcement agents that are creating a sense of fear and uncertainty among illegal immigrants in the community.

    Sheriff's Department Lt. Hernando Torres said his department is accused by both pro-immigrant and anti-immigrant groups of being in cahoots with the other side. He said his deputies are expected to enforce the law without prejudice toward anyone.

    "My personal beliefs stay at home," Torres said in his office where music in Spanish sometimes plays softly in the background. "Once we put our uniform on, we don't take sides."

    On the beat

    Torres, a 23-year veteran of the force who has spent a large part of his career in Vista, said the department is taking steps to make inroads with the Latino community. For example, the department developed a workbook that teaches English learners about the role of the department.

    But Torres also acknowledges that the department needs to hire more Spanish-speaking officers to better serve the city. Only five of the department's 82 sworn personnel serving in Vista, and only one of the 38 deputies on patrol, speak Spanish fluently, he said.

    "That's the problem that I have," he said. "Now you know what the problem is."

    The language barrier may be contributing to the residents' sense of fear. Some say they are afraid to call on deputies for help because the Sheriff's Department sometimes works with immigration officials.

    Last summer, three Latino men died in deputy-involved shootings that galvanized pro-immigrant, Latino-rights activists. The shootings also spurred grass-roots groups of anti-illegal immigrant activists to action.

    Torres said his department sometimes has little choice in that matter. The Sheriff's Department has several cooperative relationships with other state, federal and local law enforcement groups, such as gang and traffic-control task forces.

    As part of those task forces, deputies work with immigration agents to arrest gang members or set up checkpoints to catch people driving without licenses, insurance, seat belts or proper registration.

    Deputies and Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents arrested 52 people for various crimes, including 30 for immigration violations, in late May.

    It was the fourth weekend that the Vista Sheriff's Station has conducted the patrols with help from ICE officials.

    Some Latino residents in the Townsite neighborhood say they appreciate the work deputies have done to help prevent crime in the area.

    "I think people fear that if they call the police, the police are going to call immigration, but I tell them not to be afraid," said Jorge Luis Perez, a Townsite resident. "We have to help one another."

    On patrol, sheriff's Deputy Bill Thomas is regularly called to help other deputies. He is the department's only fluent Spanish speaker assigned to patrol duty in Vista.

    Thomas was called to help defuse a tense situation involving a Latino teenager threatening to hurt himself; he helped interpret for a Spanish-speaking woman involved in a traffic collision; and he spoke in Spanish with a man who said his girlfriend had left with their child ---- all within the span of the first three hours of his 12-hour shift Thursday afternoon.

    "(Being bilingual) helps me because it helps me get my job done," Thomas said.

    'Trust in God'

    Another problem facing the Sheriff's Department in Vista is frequent turnover, officials said. Patrolling the city's streets is both demanding and rewarding, Torres said.

    Deputies gain experience quicker in the city than in other parts of the county. When higher posts become available, Vista officers can point to a large body of work and are often promoted, Torres said.

    That is partly why he took the Vista assignment, Thomas said.

    "Patrol is a requirement for anything else in law enforcement," he said. "This is a busy city and things can happen at any time."

    Latino activists say the city needs to create its own police department, rather than contract with the Sheriff's Department, because they believe such a department will mean less turnover, more accountability and greater understanding of the Latino community in Vista.

    City and Sheriff's Department officials have said that the department provides a level of service that the city could not otherwise afford, including the ability to provide over 100 deputies and a helicopter on short notice, as it did Tuesday when protesters on both sides of the illegal immigration divide rallied.

    For Hernandez, the Vista grandmother, and other residents, the trade-off comes in simpler terms. She said she has seen immigration agents arrest many people in the neighborhood. She has also seen many cars impounded at checkpoints near Townsite Park.

    She arrived about 20 years ago from Mexico, she worked many years picking tomatoes, and she raised a family by herself. Her grown children are now sponsoring her to legalize her immigration status, she said. But she still lives in fear that she may one day be caught outside her home and deported, she said.

    "We have to trust in God, and we have to leave our homes sometimes," she said.

    Contact staff writer Edward Sifuentes at (760) 740-3511 or
    Comments On This Story

    Note: Comments reflect the views of readers and not necessarily those of the North County Times or its staff.
    Justice wrote on July 02, 2006 6:31 AM:"All illegal Canadians must leave the country now!"

    anti-racist gringo wrote on July 02, 2006 6:36 AM:"The Minuteman program is based on fear and lies. They have themselves and much of the country worked up into a self-righteous frenzy with statements like Mike Spencer's: "I soon won't be able to communicate in the language that the Constitution was written in." Utter nonsense, yet many are ready to believe. Why? Because prejudice, stereotyping, demonizing and scapegoating are primitive and common reactions, especially when things are going down the toilet, like now. But it's not the fault of the immigrants. They are just scapegoats ("one who is made the object of blame by others") and victims, too. Get real, nobody is trying to make everyone speak Spanish. When your leaders make preposterous claims like that, maybe you should reconsider. Or maybe you don't care about the truth."
    <div>"True patriotism hates injustice in its own land more than anywhere else."
    - Clarence Darrow</div>

  2. #2
    MW is offline
    Senior Member MW's Avatar
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    Jun 2006
    North Carolina
    But it's not the fault of the immigrants. They are just scapegoats ("one who is made the object of blame by others") and victims, too.
    While I can agree that the illegal aliens aren't the only ones to blame, I do believe they have to shoulder a lot of the blame. After all, it was them that broke our immigration laws, which is a federal crime, to come here. Many of them (maybe even most of them) have also commited fraud by using fake social secuity number, and some have even done worse by using the numbers of American citizens. Illegal aliens are not victims, it is we, the American people, that are the victims. We are victims to our federal government, corporate America, and the illegal immigrants themselves. To deny that this is true is ludicrous!

    "The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing" ** Edmund Burke**

    Support our FIGHT AGAINST illegal immigration & Amnesty by joining our E-mail Alerts at

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