By Raymond R. Beltran
“Insane-za” read some picket signs. And others, “Send Inzunza back to Tijuana.” The San Diego Minutemen surprisingly mustered up an approximate 100 supporters to oppose National City Mayor Nick Inzunza’s idea to create a safety zone for undocumented migrants.
About 200 pro-immigration activists countered the group’s presence at the rally in front of City Hall, where the Minutemen gathered. What ensued, pepper spraying, shoving, countywide police presence and an absent mayor. He was tucked in the building, he says, by the police lieutenant to avoid inciting riots.
“What we’re here to say is there’ll be no sanctuary cities here in San Diego County and Mayor Inzunza needs to resign, immediately,” shouted Oceanside resident and Minutemen organizer Jeff Schwilk under a crossed out Mexican flag.
Of the slew of anti-sanctuary protestors that attended, only four were residents of National City, according to Schwilk.
“Racistas Afuera!” was chanted throughout the counter demonstration.
“They’re not residents of this community yet they feel they can tell the community what they can do with their laws, which is something that National City people are not going to stand for.” says Elva Salinas, organizer for human rights group, Si Se Puede.
What sparked the recent controversy is when Mayor Inzunza announced on National Public Radio that he wants to create a sanctuary city of National City, a community that is sixty percent Latino. The idea is that, by law, city funds could not in any way be used to enforce immigration laws.
Currently, officers are not at liberty to inquire about immigration status during routine traffic stops and that border patrol agents would only be notified if smuggling is an obvious issue.
In 2003, Ordinance 53 was passed by city council stating that National City officers begin accepting ‘matriculas consulares’, a Mexico-issued identification card for Mexican nationals who are in the U.S. legally.
The mandate was issued after the JC Penney Incident occurred, where National City Police Officer Steve Shepard called border patrol agents on a Latino family wrongfully suspected of shoplifting at the department store in the Plaza Bonita shopping mall. The incident led to the deportation of two elderly residents who were issued matriculas consulares, but didn’t carried them that night.
Mayor Inzunza told La Prensa San Diego that his sanctuary city proclamation only “memorializes” changes he says he’s made in the police department since the incident, Ordinance 53 and the hiring of Mexico natives into high ranking officer police positions.
“Had [National City] have been a sanctuary city then, it wouldn’t have happened,” said Enrique Morones, the founder of human rights group Border Angels who was present at Saturday’s counter demonstration. “I think the policeman would have gone, ‘Wait a minute, we can’t be asking people for their papers.’ That officer would have known better.”
Morones is working with pro-immigration groups like Gente Unida, Si Se Puede and Friends of Day Laborers by leafleting mail-in petitions to residents throughout the community in support of a sanctuary city. They’ve also organized a Sept 30 rally to take place at noon in front of City Hall, where Mayor Inzunza has pledged to attend.
The mayor failed to appear at the city council meeting following the sanctuary proclamation and his advocates didn’t see him at their Minuteman counter demonstration Saturday, an absence that some say is smart, safety-wise, but has sparked a small degree of doubt in others.
“We’re concerned that he didn’t show up to the city council meeting [Sept 19],” says Salinas. “But we also intend that the next time there is a meeting, we’ll go with him and back him up, because we know he’s outnumbered there.”
Councilman Ron Morrison, a candidate for National City Mayor, is opposed to the sanctuary city idea. He’s previously stated that National City has enough laws that protect immigrants from police harassment. Although, Morrison’s outspoken statements against Inzunza have Minutemen organizers seeing a warm welcome in him, a perception he says is false.
“Imagine my shock and surprise when on Tuesday of this week I found out that my name was used in a press release issued by the Minutemen, a group that I had never had any contact with,” Morrison wrote in a letter to La Prensa San Diego. He also added that his statements, on television, should “not be taken as any connection whatsoever between myself and this organization.”
Minuteman Jeff Schwilk stated that their stance isn’t against the Latino community but about protecting borders, but the majority of Minutemen brandished signs with crossed out Mexican flags and boards stating that Tijuana is a town of criminals.
Morones stated that he, Mayor Inzunza, and candidate for Vista City Council, Tina Jillings, have all received death threats from the group. A pro-immigrant activist, Joe DeMarco, was pepper sprayed during Saturday’s rally and hit in the face with a flagstaff by Minutemen when he attempted to rescue a friend who was pummeled into their crowd.
The group also has visited Barrio Logan, a community known for its pro-Chicano murals, to paint freeway overpass steps red, white, and blue by Cesar Chavez Pkwy and Beardsley Street. The steps were originally red, white, and green and later painted over by members of the Chicano Park Steering Committee.
National City Police were accompanied by officers from El Cajon and Carlsbad Saturday, many prepared with riot gear, heavy weaponry, and a dozen rode on horseback. A metal box, thought to be a bomb threat, was discovered stashed in front of the police department by pro-immigrant activists but turned out to be nothing.
“These men are an interesting bunch … They violate civil liberties by confronting these people [migrants] at Home Depots, parks, canyons,” said Mayor Inzunza. “It’s not their job.”
Morrison accuses the mayor, whose term is over in January following this November’s election, of only making waves he won’t be responsible for in the future.
Mayor Inzunza rebuttals, “Yes, before I leave, I’m going to set the standard and raise the bar, and make it harder for the next mayor to ignore [the issues] of the immigrants of National City.”