March 27, 2009

Editorial:

Minutemen freeway sign an insult to the Hispanic community

Few in San Diego County noticed this week’s Caltrans announcement that they couldn’t find a legal reason to ban the Minutemen from California’s Adopt-A-Highway program. The Adopt-A-Highway program provides free highway advertising in exchange for the clean-up of stretches of California’s highways. For the Hispanic community, knowing that the Minutemen will claim to control and support stretches of highways in California is an insult. How much news coverage would hate group sponsorship of California highways have gotten if Caltrans allowed the KKK to post a sign on Martin Luther King Highway? What if a Nazi group adopted a stretch of Highway near La Jolla?

In November 2007, Caltrans allowed the racist group, the Minutemen, to participate in its Adopt-A-Highway road-cleanup program. The portion of highway adopted by the Minutemen was along the I-5 near the San Clemente border check. Hispanic leaders were insulted by this tacit support and recognition of the Minutemen by Caltrans. They sought to have the group banned from participating in the State program.

Under pressure from the Hispanic Legislative Caucus, Caltrans removed the sign. When a judge ordered the sign back up, Caltrans offered an alternative site. The Minutemen refused the alternative site, sued the State for discrimination, and claim that they have freedom of speech to adopt stretches of highway throughout California with no restrictions.

The Minutemen are known as a racist, hate-mongering group that promotes violence. Minutemen show up at our borders with their guns. They confront motorists on the streets. They harass immigrants looking for jobs at shopping centers. They go into the fields and vandalize makeshift camps of the workers. They go to the churches that support immigrant rights and taunt the parishioners, including little children. They have even hung an effigy of a priest with horns at a local church. We have seen them scream at our immigrant advocates, once even threatening to run over one if he dared to step out into the street. Minutemen violence and intimidation has prompted private citizens in the eastern parts of the county to erect fences and security systems in order to prevent trespassing and intimidating Minutemen from “immigrant hunting” with guns and ATVs on private property. The Minutemen web site explains how to use force and intimidation. Even President Bush called the group vigilantes. The atrocities go on and on.

For the Hispanic community, the Minutemen have waged a full on assault that Hispanics have to face every day. Now we are forced to drive by their signage and their clean up crews as if these are upstanding good old Americans just picking up litter, next to the San Clemente check point. For Hispanics this is a slap in the face.

Yet according to Caltrans guidelines, “…entities that advocate violence, violation of the law, or discrimination based upon race, religion, color, national origin … may not participate in the Adopt-A-Highway Program.” Despite Caltrans’ own clear guidelines, Transportation Department chief Will Kempton states that there is no legal way to ban the controversial anti-immigration group from participating in the program. Kempton went on to say, “Just because a group represents a controversial viewpoint that under the First Amendment is not grounds to prevent their participation in our Adopt-A-Highway program.” Evidently, Kempton is oblivious to the physical attacks, confrontations, and hate crimes that have defined the Minutemen over the past several years.

While Kempton may have his hands tied and seems unable to ban the Minutemen from participating in the Adopt-A-Highway program, the Hispanic Caucus has not given up on this issue. The caucus, led by State Senator Gil Cedillo and Assemblypersons Lori Saldaña and Joe Coto, is in the process of drafting new rules that will give Caltrans the flexibility to deny Minutemen participation. They submit that sponsoring groups should be required to submit a list of officers, group by-laws and other information, before being considered for the Adopt-A-Highway program.

If Caltrans is unable to abide by their own guidelines, let us hope that the Legislature is able to resolve this affront to the Hispanic community.

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