10/20: Latinos protest Escondido council's border police support
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Latinos protest Escondido council's border police support
ESCONDIDO ---- Dozens of protesters from Escondido's Latino community packed City Hall on Wednesday, angered by the council's recent support for a proposed ballot initiative that would create a police force to target illegal immigration.
Carrying signs decrying the decision as divisive and racist, some seven dozen protesters gathered in Grape Day Park before marching into the City Hall chambers to voice their opposition to the council's decision to throw its support behind the California Border Police Act.
Last week, in a symbolic nod of support, the council voted 3-2 to back the initiative, which would establish a state-run police agency that would patrol the U.S border with Mexico and take responsibility for apprehending suspected illegal immigrants in California's communities. Mayor Lori Pfeiler and Councilman Ron Newman voted against the resolution.
Many of the protesters' comments were directed at Councilwoman Marie Waldron, who authored the resolution of support and is the chairwoman of Californians Against Illegal Immigration. Waldron has also been helping collect the 600,000 signatures necessary to place the initiative on the June 2006 ballot.
They accused Waldron ---- who is running for an Assembly seat in the 74th District next year ---- of grandstanding as she gears up for her 2006 campaign.
Some audience members held signs stating in Spanish that Waldron was against human rights for Mexicans and urging the community not to support her. Protesters left the chambers calling for Waldron's resignation.
"The responsibility of local elected officials is to represent and hear the voices of your community," said Christian Ramirez, director of the San Diego chapter of American Friends Service Committee. "It is not to use your seat for your own political agenda."
Consuelo Martinez, who helped coordinate the demonstration for the Escondido Human Rights Committee, a group that has opposed strict immigration controls, said the resolution went against the council's stated goal of improving relations with the city's Latino community.
As to whether the council was alienating itself from Latinos by supporting the initiative, Waldron said after the meeting, "I would hope that wouldn't be the case, because there has been a lot of support for enforcing immigration law by the people who came here legally."
Roughly 42 percent of Escondido's population is Latino, according to estimates from the San Diego Association of Governments, a regional planning agency.
Many in the packed auditorium said they work and pay rent and taxes in the community, and insisted they deserve the council's respect.
Many spoke in Spanish and used translators.
"Here in Escondido, we don't have anybody who represents us," said Mario Alvarez, an Escondido resident of 23 years. "But thank you very much for those who are attacking us, because you are uniting us."
Some audience members also criticized the council's decision to ratify the resolution during its afternoon session, despite organizers' request to hold the item for the evening session, after many residents' working hours. The ratification vote followed the same lines as last week's vote.
The border police initiative is the brainchild of Assemblyman Ray Haynes, R-Murrieta, an outspoken critic of illegal immigration. Haynes proposes creating a state police force of 2,000 to 3,000 agents that would operate on an annual budget of about $200 million to $300 million.
The new force would take on responsibilities currently under the purview of the federal Border Patrol, operating along the border and within cities around the state. The initiative would also authorize the construction of detention facilities for illegal immigrants apprehended by the patrol force.
In June 2004, the U.S. Border Patrol began operating a mobile patrol unit that conducted sweeps of inland cities stretching from Escondido to Ontario. In just two weeks, those agents had apprehended some 500 illegal immigrants.
The sweeps drew the ire of immigrants' advocates and the operations were halted a short time later, according to Border Patrol union officials. Border Patrol officials denied that the agency had yielded to political pressure and stopped the sweeps.
Supporters of the border police initiative say it is needed to enforce existing immigration laws, and would save the state millions of dollars each year.
A 2004 study by the Federation for American Immigration Reform, a Washington group that pushes for tougher immigration controls, estimated that California is home to 3 million illegal immigrants, costing the state roughly $9 billion in education, law enforcement, social services and other costs.
Waldron said later she understood the demonstrators' concerns, but that the council's resolution was only symbolic and the initiative would come before the voters for final approval.
At last week's meeting, two audience members, one from Escondido and another from Temecula, urged the council to approve the resolution.
Contact staff writer David Fried at (760) 740-5416 or dfried@....