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Protesters: Illegal immigration drives drug trade, poses threat

By Hallie Winchell, Staff Writer
Monday, January 9, 2006 2:50 PM PST
World Photo by Madeline Steege Protesters braved the cold rain on Saturday morning at the Coos Bay Boardwalk to let citizens know that they want tougher enforcement of immigration laws and tighter patrolling of U.S. borders. This was a national event sponsored by

Six representatives from the Coos County Citizen Caucus braved the weather in the Bay Area Saturday morning, joining hundreds nationwide in advocating for the deportation of illegal immigrants and tougher border control with Mexico.

The group of local advocates, middle-aged and older, stood at the Coos Bay Boardwalk under umbrellas, holding signs that read, “Deport illegal aliens,� and “Protect our borders.� Outside they stood, in spite of the rain and the wind that was ripping along the bay - at least until it started to pour. But in the 20 minutes the group stood beside North Bayshore Drive, waving at drivers, hoisting their signs and plastic American flags, they received many honks and waves, apparently of support and encouragement.

Members of the Coos County Citizen Caucus, like others in many groups throughout the country, believe that the stream of illegal immigrants across the southern U.S. border must be stopped. The group claims illegal immigrants steal jobs from American workers and are a huge drain on local and state agencies that provide care and education to all people regardless of residency status. The agencies, and hospitals, public schools, and social programs including the Oregon Health Plan, are supported by Oregon tax dollars.

According to Mike Armstrong, spokesman for the Coos County Citizen Caucus, it's an issue of national security. Oregon is one of four states that do not require verification of residency in order to provide services or a driver's license. In fact, metriculas consulares, ID cards that Mexican nationals can purchase from the Mexican Consulate, are accepted as identification by the Oregon Department of Motor Vehicles and other state agencies. The cards are provided to any Mexican national or legal immigrant of the United States, but only illegal aliens need the ID cards, as legal immigrants already have documentation through the federal government.

“Oregon is a sanctuary state, the police aren't even allowed to inquire as to the residency status of any person, by law,� Armstrong said, referring to Oregon Statute 181-850, which, he said, prohibits police from using agency funding or equipment to investigate the residency status of any individual, a law which he said he finds laughable.

According to Armstrong, illegal immigration is a large problem on the South Coast.

“It's pretty prevalent in this area,� Armstrong said. “Go into Wal-Mart, North Bend Medical Center, hospitals, schools where they are teaching English as a second language.�

“Citizenship requires that you be able to speak and understand English to become a citizen,� Armstrong added. “In my memory, (Latin Americans) are the only group that does not assimilate into our country.�

Armstrong, a California police officer for 30 years, blames illegal aliens at least in part for the drug traffic in western states, adding Mexico is the location of giant methamphetamine labs and dealers in tar-heroin and marijuana. He also said that violent gangs from Latin America, such as MS13 - or Mara Salvatrucha 13 - have been infiltrating the United States and are encouraging the spread of drug trafficking and violence throughout the country.

But Saturday's rally was not about hatred of immigrants - illegal or otherwise - said Teri Macduff, a Citizen Caucus member. It was about education and awareness.

“We understand why (illegal immigrants) want to come here,� Macduff said. “We just want them to come legally.�

That's a prospect the League of United Latin American Citizens, a national advocacy group that supports equal rights for Latin Americans, doesn't see happening. According to LULAC's Web site, the organization ardently supports an aggressive overhaul of the immigration system, which is flawed and outdated. LULAC believes that until the government addresses a failing system that requires applicants to wait for years before immigrating to this country, illegal immigration will continue.

The Coos County Citizen Caucus members said they feel disappointed in the federal government, but not for the same reasons.

“I feel like our government has let us down,� Camby Collier said. “Protecting our borders should be their main objective, not the Department of Education, but protecting our borders, especially our ocean boundaries.�

According to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, 1.2 billion [ 1.2 billion ?? ] illegal aliens currently live in the United States and 700,000 undocumented immigrants cross the border every year. Many people say that figure is low. According to Armstrong, who spent time with the Arizona Minutemen, a group that patrols the Arizona border and reports illegal activity to the U.S. Border Patrol, every day, thousands of illegal aliens cross the Arizona border - which is only a small piece of the 1,951-mile-long border with Mexico.

“Its kind of frightening when you actually go to the border,� Armstrong said. “There's no fence; none.�

Although Armstrong said he has not been able to get local or state politicians involved in the issue, several bills have been proposed in Congress to legalize the status of current illegal aliens in the U.S., and create a temporary-worker program that would allow Mexican nationals to cross the border for work for several months or a few years.

But these actions are not what the Citizen Caucus and other groups are looking for.

“I think it's one of the dumbest ideas I've ever heard,� Armstrong said; “but then Congress is known for dumb ideas.�

Macduff said she supports the “Enforcement First� bill proposed by J.D. Hayworth, R-Ariz., which would give federal agencies, border patrol and local police the ability to deport illegal aliens more easily, and change certain provisions to make illegal immigration more difficult.

“We believe immigration enforcement in this country is nonexistent, especially in the interior of the country,� Armstrong said.

“There is no other country in the world that would put up with this but us,� Macduff said.

Although a knee injury kept him from participating in Saturday's rally, Mike Cook, of Coquille, also is a supporter of removing illegal aliens from this country.

“I don't think the general public is aware of the totality of the problem,� Cook said. “In Coos County alone, about 60 to 75 percent of the drugs sold in this county come right across the southern border.�

“Just about every family in Coos County has experienced someone in their family having a serious problem or contact with drugs,� Cook said. “And if we could stop it at the border it would sure help.�

Armstrong agrees, but said he thought if current legislation is any indicator, Oregon and the country were going the wrong direction.

“You can pass a bill that ups the amount of medical marijuana someone can use legally, but you can't pass a bill that denies an illegal immigrant a driver's license,� Armstrong said, incredulously.

According to Armstrong, this rally is just the beginning of the Coos County Citizen Caucus members' plans. They hope to hold more rallies and continue to bring awareness to the issue.

“We're trying to educate, make people aware, and hopefully make them start asking questions about why this is going on,� Armstrong said. “I really believe this is the single most important issue facing our country today.�