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San Diego Union Tribune
http://www.signonsandiego.com/news/mexico/tijuana/20050919-9999-1m19border.html

Border-watch group reaches crossroads

Protesters, turnout shake up organizer

By Leslie Berestein
UNION-TRIBUNE STAFF WRITER

September 19, 2005

The organizer of an anti-illegal immigration group that tried to kick off a large border-watch event over the weekend, but met with lackluster turnout and resistance from protesters, said yesterday that he may take what there is of his operation underground.

"We're not scared," said Andy Ramirez, organizer of Friends of the Border Patrol, but he added that he was worried about his and participants' safety after a run-in with protesters Saturday. "If it means that we put our people out there quietly, then that's how we do it."

Ramirez, 37, of Chino insisted that his plans to stage civilian border patrols have not been canceled, despite a low turnout of 25 participants for a training session Saturday morning at the Mission Valley Resort Hotel.

Some participants said others were scared away after a confrontation with a small crowd of protesters at the Scottish Rite center, where sign-ups were held Saturday morning. Both sides accused the other of shoving and one protester was cited. No one was injured.

Ramirez, who for several months has promoted his plans to stand up to immigrant smugglers and drug runners by monitoring the border in San Diego and Imperial counties, sounded rattled as he talked about his fear of winding up "with a toe tag."

"We have to plan our security better," said Ramirez, who accused the protesters of being violent. "We're going to assess for the next few days, and we'll be out there later this week."

Ramirez, who ran two unsuccessful campaigns for state Assembly in the mid-1990s and has said he eventually would like to run for office again, at one time said that he had interest from 2,000 potential volunteers.

Last week he said he had trained 125 people, and that 30 to 40 of them had conducted secret patrols this summer. Yesterday, he said there was just a skeleton crew guarding private property where they had planned to stage patrols, for fear of protesters.

Ramirez's waffling on plans for his operation, which he organized after the relative success of the Minuteman Project in Arizona last April, was welcomed by opponents, who criticize the presence of civilian patrols in Southern California.

"All he wanted was the media attention," said Enrique Morones of Border Angels, a group that sets up desert water stations for migrants, and one of the organizers of an anti-border watch rally Saturday in Calexico that drew about 300 people.

"California is not Arizona," Morones said. "One-third of the population is Latino. We have been through Proposition 187, and this is the Proposition 187 of our time. Californians are against this type of racism."

A recent Field Poll showed that a majority of California voters, while concerned about illegal immigration, do not approve of civilian border-watch groups.

Robert Burns, an Orange County resident who was among the few participants at the Saturday training session, said yesterday that as far as he knew, plans were still on for a second training session in a rural area next weekend.

"I don't think what happened (Saturday) changed anything," Burns, 44, said of the scuffle at the Scottish Rite center. "But I do think it gave them a little pause."

Leslie Berestein: (619) 542-4579; leslie.berestein@uniontrib.com


San Diego Union Tribune
http://www.signonsandiego.com/news/mexico/tijuana/20050918-9999-1m18border.html

Turnout is low for watchers of border

Organizers, protesters scuffle earlier in day

By Leslie Berestein
UNION-TRIBUNE STAFF WRITER

September 18, 2005

The second anti-illegal immigration border watch to hit the San Diego area this summer got off to a slow start yesterday, with fewer participants than expected showing up for a morning training session at the Mission Valley Resort Hotel.

Organizers from a group calling itself Friends of the Border Patrol said they had scaled back their operations for security reasons, while a confrontation with protesters at the Scottish Rite center earlier in the morning might have frightened off some would-be border watchers.

"I don't know if they all went home or what," said one participant working the sign-in table at the hotel, where about 25 people attended a basic orientation.

Organizer Andy Ramirez, 37, said that while about 125 people have been trained to watch for illegal border crossers on private property in San Diego and Imperial counties, only 20 to 30 people would be participating this weekend, and that little activity was planned for the rest of the week. At one time, he said he had interest from as many as 2,000 people.

"We have scaled back partially because of heat from (choosing) this weekend," said Ramirez, who picked Friday's Mexican Independence Day to launch his event, and was met at his news conference that afternoon by protesters.

Another organizer said border-watch activities would eventually be stepped up, but not right away.

In spite of the low turnout with almost as many journalists present as participants the orientation went on as planned.

Some participants said they had done the border-watch circuit this year, starting with the Minuteman Project in Arizona in April, then a patrol with a group called California Minutemen in Campo in July, and now this.

A woman who jokingly called herself "Vigil Annie" sold Border Patrol caps, which she said were official, and T-shirts that read "Undocumented U.S. Border Patrol Agent" for $20.

"It's how I support my Minuteman habit," said Dottie Dalton, 66, of Murrieta, who said she spent 30 days at the Arizona event and will participate in this one, whenever she is called to patrol.

Most of the participants were men of varying ages, all but one or two of them white. The youngest participant, 22-year-old Chris Bachman of Chula Vista, said he appreciates a multicultural society but that he was opposed to "people who don't want to be a part of America."

"They don't want to contribute to society. They just want to get a job and go home," he said. "A lot of them are criminals."

Some said they feared terrorists entering the country, while others complained about illegal immigrants using public services.

Meanwhile, as Ramirez held court under a patio umbrella with television crews, Latino employees occasionally entered the meeting room to fill water pitchers, or walked past with cleaning supplies. One hotel employee said he was apprehensive.

"On the street, you hear these people are racists," he said. "I hope they don't do anything bad to anyone who comes across."

Ramirez has stressed that the group will be nonviolent and only some participants will be armed. During the orientation, one man who Ramirez called a "sector leader" urged participants to play it safe: Don't hunt people, don't wander and set off security sensors, don't trespass, and don't play paramilitary.

"If you are still reliving Vietnam . . . this is not a good place for you," said the man, who Ramirez would only identify as John. The man later added, "We are not out here to catch illegals or hunt Mexicans. . . . "

Still, the group's presence did not sit well with many.

Early yesterday morning, protesters scuffled with participants at the Scottish Rite center, where the border-watchers were signing in to receive directions to the location of their meeting later.

Both sides accused the other of assaulting them. Both also said they videotaped the confrontation. In the end, San Diego police cited one protester, a Riverside man, on a battery charge. San Diego Police Sgt. Jorge Leon said nobody was hurt.

A much larger crowd of protesters rallied yesterday afternoon in Calexico, where opponents of the border watchers have placed signs in windows and on state Highway 98 heading into town reading "Minutoman, Your Minute's Up, Now Go Home."

Roughly 300 people marched from a small park to the border fence to protest against civilian patrol groups.

"What they propose isn't really a solution," said Jinah Kip, 30, of San Diego. "It's more of an angry, violent response. . . . I think a big part of it is a nostalgia for an America that doesn't really exist."

Flory Del Toro, an immigrant from Guatemala who recently became a U.S. citizen, traveled from Ventura County to attend. She carried an American flag as she marched with an elderly couple from Los Angeles, who carried also flags.

"We are all immigrants from other countries," said Del Toro, 56. "We are all human."

Leslie Berestein: (619) 542-4579; leslie.berestein@uniontrib.com









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