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May 25, 2008

Speakers at Lakewood rally protest illegal immigration


Nearly 70 people showed up Saturday afternoon for the second anti-illegal immigration rally held here in seven months.

As most people started their summer on the boardwalk or in the sand, the crowd at Pine Park had a more weighted agenda: protesting the influx of undocumented workers populating Clifton Avenue and elsewhere across the nation.

But the band and nine speakers under the park's Clarence Brown Memorial Pavilion found themselves competing with a handful of hecklers with a bullhorn on the other side of the fence.

One of them, Jared Shultz, 29, said he and his companions (some of whom covered their faces with handkerchiefs) had come from Trenton as members of Anti-Racist Action, whose slogan is "Fighting fascism in the streets since 1988."

"We're here to remind all these people that we're a nation of immigrants," Shultz said. "They're talking a lot about borders drawn by rich white men. Capitalism doesn't abide by borders. Why should people have to?"

Shultz claims he was approached by at least one member of a neo-Nazi group. Rallyists claim no such groups were present. The truth was unclear.

Diane Reaves, a local resident, organized the rally as well as one held in October. In an e-mail before the event, she expressed concern at "receiving some news that a possible neo-Nazi group may try to attend the rally."

In response, she said she would tighten access to the rally by checking identification and selling tickets.

"If the rally was advertised as a public event, we would have no right to sell tickets at the gate, or ask for personal identification," she said in the e-mail. "So we have decided that this event shall not be a public event. Instead, it will be for ticket holders only."

The turnout Saturday was about the same as at the fall protest at Lake Carasaljo, but with fewer planning snags. Several speakers from across the region spoke on a stage lined with posters that read "Give me your huddled masses yearning to break the law" and "We're not vigilantes, we're undocumented border patrol agents."

Among those listening from picnic tables were Harold and Pat Hurley, a couple in their 70s who grew up in Lakewood and now live in Toms River.

Pat Hurley's justification for closing the borders was simple: "We can't assimilate 40 million people."

Her husband, however, cast the immigrants more as victims of business owners who take advantage of the cheap labor. "They don't care about the people, just about the next dollar and the politicians — the next vote," he said. "They don't realize they're selling our country down the drain."

Last year Reaves got a crash course in navigating through the red tape invariably stuck to organizing such a controversial event. But this time around, Township Committee approval sailed through in February with a police presence equal to that for the October rally.

Then the hecklers arrived.

"Are you getting annoyed yet?" one yelled through the fence.

The answer was yes. Speakers, drowned out and distracted by the bullhorn, reciprocated.

"Sometimes the wind comes from that direction and carries the stench with it," Peter Gadiel, of the advocacy group 9/11 Families for a Secure America, said.

All those on benches nearest to the fence moved to the other side.