By Mark R. Day
In recent weeks the embers of hate and intolerance against migrant workers near Rancho Penasqitos have sparked open hostilities between members of the anti-immigrant Minutemen (MM), the migrants themselves, and human rights workers. Much of this has followed on the heels of KNBC television series directed against the migrants as well as the appearance of San Diego Mayor Jerry Sanders on a right wing talk show supporting the Minutemen.
Critics of the KNBC show point out that reporter Ana Garcia failed to interview the migrants or their advocates, focusing instead on the MM intent on evicting the migrants from their squatter camps. Migrant activist Enrique Morones of Border Angels is seeking Garcia’s ouster from KNBC, while others have emailed their complaints directly to the reporter.
“Your report adds fuel to the white hot issue of immigration and feeds the frenzy of racist and vigilante currents in our communities,” wrote UCSD Prof. Jorge Mariscal in an email to Ana Garcia. “Even my undergraduate students know how to formulate an argument free of bias. Despite your many journalism awards, you have obviously never learned that fundamental lesson.”
Just after Garcia’s series ran, KFMB talk show host Rick Roberts challenged San Diego Mayor Jerry Sanders on air on what measures he would take to evict migrants from McGonigle Canyon near Ranch Penasquitos. “The fire has been lit,” Sanders responded. “Action will be rapid.” Roberts then asked Sanders if he would join the MM “campout” at the canyon the following day. “I’ll be out of town,” Sanders joked. “Besides, I’m not into camping.”
Since the protests, most migrants have left McGonigle Canyon, and many have been forced to sleep in tomato fields. Migrant advocates have helped them with food and blankets, and some employers have given them temporary housing.
The scene at a recent day labor site in Rancho Penasquitos was tense as more than a dozen MM harassed day laborers seeking work along Rancho Penasquitos Boulevard. “It’s been ugly, but never this ugly,” said Claudia Smith, a human rights attorney who monitors several day labor sites in North County. “People are on edge. Anything can happen.”
Smith described the MM’s comments that day as racist and sexist. At one point, she said, one of the MM grabbed his crotch and made lewd comments about sex acts between the human rights observers and the day laborers, mostly immigrants from Mexico. “This is not uncommon” she added. “It happens all the time, especially when the media are not around.”
Citing Garcia’s and Robert’s broadcasts, the MM charge that the camps are hotbeds of drug dealing and prostitution. But San Diego police Captain Boyd Long challenged Garcia to document any criminal activity. “All she showed us was fuzzy video of some girls in a camp, but nothing substantial,” Long said.
While migrant advocates concede that powerful mafias may prey upon the migrants, they say the men generally shun drugs and prostitutes. “The migrants often complain about these activities and ask church workers to drive them to other locations for sports and other activities ,” said Barbara Perrigo of Ecumenical Migrant Outreach, based in Carlsbad.
Protests at labor sites have grown in size and intensity since Feb. 4, when dozens of MM picketed the Von’s center labor site in Vista. Minutemen spokesperson Dolly Dalton told Channel 8 news: “They (the day laborers) come here. They rob, steal and rape. They drop babies all over the place. Then they go back to Mexico and bring in another dozen babies.”
Minutemen deny they are racists, pointing instead to “La Raza” activists, who they claim hate America and want to turn the Southwest back to Mexican rule. But extensive investigations by the Southern Poverty Law Center in Atlanta have shown that groups such as the MM and Save Our State (SOS) have close ties to traditional white supremacist groups.
Minutemen co-founders Jim Gilchrist and Chris Simcox are known for the extremist views. “I’m damn proud to be a vigilante,” Gilchrist told a May, 2000 meeting of the California Coalition for Immigration Reform. “Every time a Mexican flag is planted on American soil, it is a declaration of war.”
Simcox reportedly suffered a mental breakdown when 9/11 occurred. His wife left him and gained custody of their son. Later, Simcox was arrested and sentenced to two years probation for carrying a concealed weapon while hunting for undocumented immigrants in a national park near the U.S. Mexican border.
Jim Chase of Oceanside, another prominent Minuteman, is also known for emotional outbursts. Last year, when he unexpectedly encountered migrant activist Enrique Morones at a San Diego television studio, Chase lost his temper, pointed at Morones and shouted, “I’d like to kill him.” Studio personnel cancelled the interview and ushered Chase out of the building.
Jeff Schwilk, who calls himself the founder of the San Diego Minutemen, frequently sends out inflammatory emails to his followers. In a Sept. 7 email, he labeled one legal observer an “anorexic slut, and a lying communist bitch, committed a hundred per cent to the socialist cause of defeating Americans in America.” Schwilk recently told a human rights observer that he has received financial assistance in the past from Minutemen founder Jim Gilchrist.
Steven Shine, a Brooklyn native, routinely stops would-be employers at day labor sites and tells them that many immigrant workers are known pedophiles and that some bring disease into the U.S.
Recently, the MM have shifted their attention from day labor sites and vow that they will rid all the canyons around San Diego of homeless migrants.
Juan Ramon, an activist with the Frente Indigena (F.I.O.B) believes that violence against the migrants is increasing each day. “The Minutemen have destroyed more than 20 shacks the migrants built in McGonigle Canyon,” said Ramon, a Vista resident. “They have stolen bicycles, slashed tires of others, and removed cooking materials. Lately they have blocked the entrances to the camps and threatened workers with beatings.”
Ramon says the workers are in dire need of jackets, blankets and other clothing to keep them warm. He can be reached at (760) 216-0826.
The KNBC television series “The Village” can be seen at: http://www.nbc4.tv/news/10286024/detail.html.
Minutemen actions were video tapped by the California Rural Legal Assistance Foundation’s Border Project and can be viewed at: www.minutemenunvarnished.com