Protests Fail to Change Council’s Immigration Stand
Despite emotional and sometimes angry protests from residents, political groups and human relations experts, the City Council has refused to back down from its controversial resolution urging strict enforcement of immigration laws and calling for the adoption of English as the nation’s official language.
Opponents of the resolution, led by the Coalition for Harmony in Monterey Park, derided the measure as a racist attack on Asians and Latinos and threatened to start a recall effort against the council.
Although some residents defended the council’s action during nearly four hours of debate on the issue Monday night, most of the audience of 300 cheered the opposition.
Speakers Urge Repeal
Representatives of the county Human Relations Commission, the National Conference of Christians and Jews, the New Democratic Movement, the Asian Pacific Democratic Club, the Mexican-American Political Assn. and a Latino student group at UCLA joined two former mayors and several city commissioners in urging repeal of the resolution, adopted by the council June 3.
Before the council meeting, about 100 people marched in front of City Hall, chanting “Hey, hey, ho, ho! The resolution’s got to go!” while holding up signs with such messages as “Racist Resolution Is Not the Solution” and “Work for Harmony, Not Inequality.”
The resolution, introduced by Councilman Barry Hatch and supported by council members Cam Briglio and Pat Reichenberger, denounces cities that provide sanctuary for refugees who have entered this country illegally, instructs the Police Department to cooperate with immigration authorities, urges Congress to control the nation’s borders and endorses legislation to make English the official language of the United States.
The resolution is a policy statement that urges action by federal authorities but does not compel any additional action by the city government.
Restatement of Policy
Councilmen said the directive urging police to cooperate with immigration authorities merely restates existing policy and is not intended to turn policemen into immigration agents.
Mayor G. Monty Manibog and Councilman Chris Houseman voted to rescind the resolution but were outvoted by Hatch, Briglio and Reichenberger.
Michael Eng, one of four co-chairmen of the Coalition for Harmony in Monterey Park, said that recall of the council is one of several possible actions to be discussed at a public meeting at 7 p.m. Mondayat the Bruggemeyer Memorial Library.
However, according to the city clerk, state election law does not permit a recall effort until a council member has been in office 90 days. Hatch and Reichenberger were elected April 8. Briglio is near the midpoint in his four-year term.
R. C. Hollingsworth, another of the coalition’s co-chairmen, said reaction to the passage of the resolution has created an alliance of Latinos, Asians and others who intend to watch the council closely.
A recall effort is unlikely now, he said, but “we hope to get people to put pressure on the council to behave themselves.”
The coalition has accused the council of targeting immigrants, particularly Asians and Latinos, and of fostering “divisiveness, disharmony and distrust among the people of the community.”
A surge of Asian immigration in the past decade has changed the racial composition of the city, now estimated at 40% Asian, 37% Latino, 22% Anglo and 1% black.
Denies Racist Motives
The council members supporting the resolution denied that it was racially inspired, and even the two council members who oppose the resolution cautioned against inferring racial motives.
Hatch said he proposed the resolution to call attention to the burden imposed on this country by uncontrolled immigration. He said that 4 million people are entering this country illegally every year and, that the annual cost to taxpayers nationwide is $35 billion.
He denied that his concern was racially motivated.
“I love every man, woman and child on Earth,” Hatch said. “I am concerned about everyone.”
Worried About Fragmentation
Hatch has based his support for making English the official language over concern about fragmenting the nation into ethnic groups separated by language barriers.
Hatch co-sponsored an initiative petition last year to make English the city’s official language, but the effort failed because of a legal defect in the petition.
Reichenberger, who joined the initiative campaign primarily because of concern over business signs written entirely in Chinese, said the sign problem has lessened.
However, she said she still supports the English-language proposal and does not believe that it interferes with anyone’s rights.
Speaks Italian at Home
The council toughened its sign ordinance earlier this year to require the inclusion of English. Reichenberger denied that her support of the English-language movement was racially motivated, saying, “I have never judged a person by his color.”
Briglio, who was born in Italy, said his family speaks Italian at home but uses English to converse with others and he sees nothing wrong with recognizing English as the official language.
“I’m damn proud to support this resolution,” he said.
Hatch said, “I wouldn’t rescind that on my life.”
Houseman said that he abstained from voting when the resolution was first presented because he did not find most of it objectionable.
Issue Called Distraction
However, he--and Manibog, who opposed the resolution from the start--objected to the call for making English the official language. Houseman said the issue is a distraction from the real problems of the city.
However, many opponents found fault with the entire resolution.
Linda Wong, an attorney with the Mexican-American Legal Defense Educational Fund , accused Houseman, a law student, of failing to recognize that constitutional protections apply to all people, even those who have entered this country illegally.
She said Houseman is not only unaware of the law, but seems unable to make “a distinction between what it morally right and morally wrong.”
No Advance Notice
Wong noted that the council enacted its resolution about 1 a.m. on June 3 without notifying the public. She said the council should have held public hearings and at least solicited advice from immigration experts before involving itself in that complicated national issue.
Patricia Chin, a member of the city Planning Commission, said the council should stick to local matters.
“You were elected to provide leadership in Monterey Park . . . not to act on a national level,” she said.
Robert M. Jones, an Alhambra resident who is the Southern California regional executive director of the National Conference of Christians and Jews, said the effort to declare English the official language is “divisive and tension-creating” at best and, “at its worst, appeals to the stereotypes and prejudices of people.”
He urged the council to seize the opportunity to bring ethnic groups together to promote community harmony.
A member of the county Human Relations Commission staff read a statement adopted by the commission in January and approved by county supervisors that says that resolutions declaring English the official language “create greater intergroup tension and ill will, encourage resentment and bigotry, pit neighbor against neighbor and group against group. They reflect our worst fears, not our best values.”
Although most of the speakers at this week’s council meeting urged repeal of the resolution, some speakers supported the council’s action.
Maxine Vogler of Alhambra said she couldn’t understand why the issue seemed to generate hate. “I can’t see what the big deal is in having to use the English language,” she said.
Support Long Overdue
Frank Arcuri, who co-sponsored the English-language initiative last year, said the council’s support is long overdue.
Arcuri’s wife, Nancy, said the difficulties that could arise in permitting other languages to compete with English could be illustrated by imagining each council member speaking in his ancestor’s tongue.
Richard Carlblom, who described himself as leader of the English-language movement in Arcadia, said, “The Asian immigrants are being bigoted and racist in refusing to use English and refusing to assimilate themselves in American society.’
Council members who supported the resolution said that declaring English the official language would not keep anyone from speaking his or her native language but would help preserve the role of English as the common language.
At times the debate grew heated. One supporter declared, “This is an American city,” and accused opponents of acting like “Communists trying to terrorize the government.”
Several Latino speakers said Spanish was spoken in Los Angeles County long before English. “This area was stolen from the Mexican people after they allowed the English-speaking people in,” said one man.
David Almada, a former councilman and mayor who lost a bid for reelection last April, accused the council of needlessly raising an issue that generates bigotry and hate.
Rudy Peralta, another former councilman and mayor defeated in April, said that the previous council had tried to defuse the English-language issue because it realized that “calling each other racists and bigots was not going to solve anything.”
Judy Chu, a member of the Garvey school board, told the council, “We are becoming known as a model of racial strife, and for that, you are responsible.”
Johnny Li, chairman of the city Planning Commission, said he was distressed by the controversy.
“It’s a sad occasion to see my friends and neighbors shouting at each other,” he said, urging the council to rescind the resolution in the interests of harmony.
Houseman said that even though he believes the resolution should be rescinded he thinks the measure may wind up benefiting the city by promoting a healthy discussion.