SAN JUAN CAPISTRANO, 27 January 2007 - It was just another skirmish in the
two-year war on migrants. Sixty minutemen, from San Diego Minutemen and
Save Our State, tried to run day laborers out of San Juan Capistrano, but they
were held at bay by thirty or so determined day laborers and their supporters.
But the terrain has changed in this low-grade war. The Border Patrol still shoots and kills
people on the border, but only a few a year. Thousands of others die
because they're forced to cross through the heat of the desert or the cold of
the mountains. What's new is a year's worth of terrorism, come home to southern California just last week. Last week, Department of Homeland Security ICE agents
rousted more than 700 people from their beds in an early morning raid across the
Los Angeles area demanding papers, leaving in their wake terrified neighbors and
children too fearful to attend school. Yesterday, in Contra Costa County, federal agents
identified themselves as police to gain admittance to people's homes, and
grabbed more than 200 people off bicycles and away from their dinner tables. Reports to date list only one of these nearly one
thousand detainees who has been arrested for a felony. The rest were
tossed into detention camps, and half have already been shipped away. Five
weeks ago agents with automatic rifles raided workplaces in a coordinated raid across several midwestern states,
identified people who didn't appear to be foreign-born with blue plastic
wristbands, and transported the Spanish-surnamed people thousands of miles from
family and lawyers to the camps. It took a month and a union-instigated lawsuit to
President Bush announces that he plans to continue deportation "without
animosity." The Democratic-controlled Congress sets their immigration
priorities: more confrontations at the border with Mexico, more workplace
roundups, and, for those migrants who manage to remain, nearly impossible
hurdles to legal status.
Leading provocateurs of the anti-migrant sentiment, the minutemen, early this
morning targeted a donut store in San Juan Capistrano, where migrants wait and
hope that more affluent people will hire them for a day's labor.
Today the laborers were beset with dozens of U.S. flags and nearly as many
video cameras, patriotic songfests, and five hours of insults and intimidation
from a bullhorn from the minutemen across the street. "Too much
teatro," a worker concluded with a frustrated, slightly disgusted
With minutemen, jornaleros, and migrant advocates interspersed on the other
side of Doheny Park Road -- and the cops nearly invisible in a nearby parking
lot -- the protest became a verbal tournament.
The bullhorn announced, "you see the mix of races," referring to an
African-American woman and a Mexican migrant among the otherwise white minuteman
faces. A "patriot," meanwhile, declared, "The Irish didn't drive
Another confronted a migrant supporter who was wearing a bandanna: "Are
you a leper? Are you on probation or parole?"
On minutewoman challenged the defenders by mocking their youth. "I
give you ten more years," she pontificated to one labor supporter.
"What? To get bitter and cynical and become a minuteman?" he
retorted. Following her friend's theme, she responded to a compatriot, "He's a
17-year-old leper who works at Mother's Market."
A contractor hired a jornalero, and a minuteman on a motorcycle took off down
the street after the truck.
"You need a benevolent and strong government system," another
nationalist offered, "like the Roman Empire and the Egyptians."
He claimed the ancient Egyptians didn't have slaves, and didn't mention Rome's
habit of feeding prisoners of war to lions for public amusement. A few
moments later he added, "My grandfather was Mexican. . . . OK,
white Mexican, but so what?"
The bullhorn declared that migrants are subhuman. "You can tell by
the clothes they wear, by their attitude, their language." Then the
bullhorner pointed to a large sign with professionally-produced lettering and
proclaimed, "Brokebutt Border, where Americans get screwed." He
hopped around shaking his ass at the crowd across the street and called over his
shoulder, "Kiss me before he breaks it off in there" and "It's
getting a little raw down there."
A cop pulled up and asked the minutemen on the counterprotesters' side to
chill with the inflammatory rhetoric. At the minutemen's insistence, he rebuked a counterprotester before he left. When he drove off, a minuteman
complained to a small group of counterprotesters, "You're not going to
solve anything by calling names. Say you're the only one smoking crack and
sticking gerbils up your ass. Is it fair to generalize?" A
man snapped back, "This is not a 'let's work together'
rally." "You guys are scapegoating poor people," one
supporter told a video camera clutched protectively in front of a minutewoman's
face. "If you want affordable health care, talk to the
government." The only response was from a minuteman who mumbled,
"He's a chica."
The bullhorner declared, "The rest of us have our fingerprints
registered by the FBI. We don't know who you are."
A woman spat on a minuteman organizer's flag. The minuteman sought out
a videographer to record the woman's face while proclaiming he didn't care about
the spitting incident. Meanwhile, a minutewoman pronounced, "Spitting
on the flag -- that's desecrating the flag. That's a federal
A contractor pulled into the parking lot, and the minutemen rushed over to
deter him. The contractor assured the minutemen that he paid all the
requisite business and employee taxes. The call went out from the workers
and their supporters: would a minuteman take the job? Eventually a
white-bearded minuteman agreed and climbed into the truck, to the laughter of
the laborers. The contractor and the minuteman drove off, but the
minuteman reappeared about half an hour later, admitting that he had been fired.
The bullhorn called out "Whose streets?" The
counterprotesters quickly shot back, "Our streets!" "Who's
jobs?" Before the minutemen caught on, the counterprotesters chimed
in, "Our jobs!" "Whose country?" A pause, and then a
handful of minutemen recognized their cue: "Our country," they
One Mexican worker told the minutemen, "California is Mexico.
Texas is Mexico. Arizona is Mexico. It isn't now," he
clarified, "but it is."
Several minutemen jumped in. "I can't go to the emergency room and
get care." "My father had to take his business out of state
because he wouldn't hire illegal aliens." "How come hookers
can't work legally but illegal aliens can?" "Morally, it's never
right to break a law, whether it's right or not."
Off to one side, a minuteman sneered and quietly threatened a counter
protester, "You'll be in a hospital longer than I'll be in jail."
"What do we want?" the bullhorn asked.
"Deportation!" The minutemen had found the rhythm.
"When do you want it?" "Now!"
A minutewoman continued the conversation: "Have you ever seen an
A migrant supporter asked, "What's the problem?"
"They're breaking laws" was the response. "No, what's the
problem with these people being here?" he persisted. "The
problem is that these are people not obeying the laws of the land."
Another added, "Laws are meant to make a cohesive society." A
counterprotestor retorted, "What about slavery? Those were unjust
laws." A minuteman replied, "We're talking about now, not
then. Are you a communist? Are you a Mexican? Are you a proud
The counterprotestors didn't answer.
After exhorting a jornalero ally for calling a minuteman a
"fucker," a minutewoman finally conceded, "The Lord Jesus Christ
is the only way out of this mess." A beat, then the man shot
back, "You believe in god, I believe in cuss words."
As the flagwavers across the street sang "God Bless America," the
bullhorn implored, "Where are we going to go when the United States becomes
a horrible, awful place to live?"
A minutewoman declared, "If you can't feed 'em, don't breed 'em."
Asked if she was saying Mexicans have too many kids, a minuteman passing by
answered, "Yes." Then it was her turn: "Illegal aliens cross
the border with fifteen children. They expect us to pay for
them." Her friend added, "We put stray dogs to sleep in Los
Angeles. It's comparable. There's a lot of overbreeding."
The bull horn queried, "Who are we saying we're better than?"
One minuteman was asked about the "Europeans who came over here, walked
off the boat, and killed and raped and destroyed everyone in their
path." "Crap happens," he shrugged, "It happens to
It was noon, the minutemen were packing it up, so I dashed across the street,
where I found four white guys with close-cropped hair lurking behind the
minuteman line. "Are you minutemen?" I opened the
conversation. "No, but after today, I'm going to join," the lead
guy said. A few minutes later I was told to go back to my country.
"I don't want to push 'one' for English," he told me. Is it a
problem to push that button? "It's an insult," he announced to a
backslap from one of his pals.
Then, except for two stragglers, the minutemen were gone. A former day
laborer told me his story. "I worked hard in this country for
twenty-five years, paid taxes, never took anything for nothing, raised four
children. I'm retired, and they want to separate me from my family.
"This isn't the land of the free," he went on. "You pay
for everything here. Last week I paid 0 to take my children's children
to Disneyland, and that was just to get in. Three dollar Cokes, three
dollars for a champurrado." He shook his head.
The minutemen promised to return next week to San Juan Capistrano. And
like the swallows, and in spite of the efforts of the minutemen, the Department
of Homeland Security, the Congress, and the President, the migrants will be