Influx of Aliens Sparks Angry Response : Many Cite Problems but Steps Taken to Improve Conditions

Times Staff Writer

David Fraunfelder depends on illegal aliens for his livelihood. If he didn't hire the low-wage workers in his lawn and garden service, Fraunfelder said, he could not compete with the scores of gardeners who do.

But at the same time, Fraunfelder curses the influx of illegal aliens into Orange County--particularly into the historic Santa Ana neighborhood where the 45-year-old businessman lives.

Fraunfelder said he became angry six months ago when one of the units in an apartment building next to his stately French Park home was rented to illegal aliens. Soon, there were two families living in the two-bedroom apartment, Fraunfelder said. Since then, he said, other units have been vacated and more illegals have moved in.

"Living at the corner of Spurgeon and 9th (streets) has become a day-to-day battle," said Fraunfelder, president of the Historic French Park Homeowners Assn., which is working to restore the once-seedy neighborhood to its 1920s grandeur.

"Suddenly, there are old cars parked up and down the street," he said. "You can hear horns honking at 4:30 in the morning calling people out to work. The apartments aren't big enough, so people entertain in their cars, they sit out there and drink beer. . . . The illegal alien situation threatens to destroy everything we've accomplished in the past."

Fraunfelder symbolizes an apparent contradiction surrounding the influx of illegal aliens into Orange County: Many residents are willing to hire undocumented workers to dig ditches or scrub floors for low wages, but are not anxious to live next door to them.

"People are making reference to 'those folks' like they did in the South (about blacks)," said Santa Ana City Councilwoman Patricia A. McGuigan. "It's the influx over the border--with the Mexican (economic) situation so bad, the area's just teeming with them. . . . People are threatened. They are mad, they are resentful and they are becoming prejudiced."

At the same time, however, Orange County is home to an organized movement to protect the rights of immigrants from unscrupulous employers and landlords who exploit their illegal status in the country.

During the last two decades, the ethnic makeup of Orange County has changed dramatically. In 1970, 86% of the county's 1.4 million people were white, with Latinos comprising 11% and Blacks, Asians and other minorities the remaining 3%. But today, about one in four of Orange County's 2 million residents is a member of a minority group--including about 300,000 Latinos, according to census data.

About 80,000 to 100,000 illegal immigrants (5% of the population) are permanently settled in Orange County, and another 100,000 or more come for seasonal work during the spring and summer, immigration experts estimate. And the number of families immigrating illegally to Orange County appears to have grown during the past five years: While illegal aliens accounted for about 14% of the Santa Ana Unified School District's total enrollment in 1981, today that figure is 22%, said Anthony Dalessi, assistant superintendent for the district.

The increasing ethnic diversity was noted in the 1985 Orange County Annual Survey conducted by UC Irvine sociologist Marc Baldassare. Nearly half of county residents polled said they thought the ethnic change in population was changing the county "for the better." One-fourth of those polled countywide said the county was "changing for the worse. . . ." In the central county, which has experienced the greatest degree of the racial and ethnic mix, 41% thought the county was changing for the better while 31% said it was changing for the worse. For the survey, the central county was defined as Tustin, Santa Ana, Costa Mesa and Garden Grove.

Baldassare, who has been monitoring the mood of the county over the past five years through UC Irvine's annual polls, said some affluent Anglos view the changing social composition as a threat to the suburban life style they envisioned when they moved here: white, middle-class and family-oriented.

"Now, it's a more socially diverse and industrialized suburb," Baldassare said, "and residents are concerned that it will lead to lower property values, a higher crime rate and higher taxes. They (Anglos) came out here to get away from this."

Nowhere is the illegal aliens' presence more strongly felt than in Santa Ana, where police estimate that one in four residents is an illegal, and more than half the city's population is Latino.

While the illegals cannot vote, their presence is felt in city politics. After Santa Ana residents voted down a ballot initiative that would have reorganized city government--probably giving Latinos more representation on the City Council--some Latino activists blamed the defeat on two last-minute mailers that they termed racist. The mailers made reference--without naming him--to immigrant rights' activist Nativo Lopez--whose organization, Hermandad Mexicana Nacional, worked for the measure, and said that the ballot measure could lead to the city becoming "an overcrowded East Coast slum."

Played on Fears

A poll by opponents of the measure showed it winning handily a few weeks before the election, but on June 3, residents voted it down by just 257 votes. Amin David, president of Los Amigos, a group of Latino businessmen in the county, said the mailers played upon voters' fears that "swarming multitudes (were) about to occupy Santa Ana."

"But that's a real and conscious fear of the people in this city," said Fraunfelder, who co-sponsored one of the mailers. "The middle class is being systematically driven out by illegal aliens. . . . Racism has nothing to do with it."

Lopez, whose storefront operation in Santa Ana aids many illegal residents, attributes the backlash to cultural differences, the increased numbers of undocumented workers and their increased visibility. Last year, Lopez led an unprecedented rent strike by illegals who succeeded in forcing their landlords to clean up blighted buildings.

"The long-time residents are irked that this community is raising its voice--(it is) perceived as having no rights," said Lopez. "It is an unfortunate situation, because if it continues to develop, we are going to have racial polarization in the community, and that is not necessary."

Not Racists

But John Raya, a Mexican-American plumber who lives in Santa Ana, said people upset with the influx of illegals are not racists. "I hate to see this referred to constantly as a racial issue," Raya said. "I'm a Latino, and I have to obey our laws. So should they. We're always talking about protecting their rights--what about our rights?"

At a recent community meeting, emotions boiled over on another issue--a sidewalk labor pool along Euclid Street in Santa Ana, where dozens of male illegals gather each morning to meet with employers willing to give them a day's work.

Residents and business owners claimed that the men harass customers and neighbors, and demanded that the police clear the area of the workers and the mostly Anglo employers who snarl traffic as they stop to negotiate for cheap labor.

But Santa Ana deputy police chief Gene Hansen told the residents that police crackdowns and Immigration and Naturalization Service sweeps of the labor pools provide only temporary relief, and that Santa Ana must learn to accommodate its new residents.

"The challenge to the community is to find a place where they (the workers) can check in and check out without disrupting the neighborhood," Hansen told the hostile crowd of 150. "You'd like us to make the situation go away, but that's just not going to happen."

Santa Ana has no formal policy on illegal aliens, Councilwoman McGuigan said. "I wouldn't say that we are putting out the welcome mat. . . . But if they're here they're here, and we really don't have any way we can prevent people from coming into the city. . . . It would be helpful for residents to try to understand what the limitations of our city government are. We do not have the right to remove anybody from our streets or sidewalks simply because of national origin."

But homeowners like Pat Dolan, 44, who has spent the last 12 years turning his Costa Mesa house into his dream home--complete with a three-car garage, Jacuzzi and deck--are not content to peacefully coexist with their neighbors. In the last few years, Dolan said, his neighborhood has become heavily populated with illegals, and he and his wife, Judy--an Australian immigrant--send their 11-year-old daughter to a school across town, in "an Anglo area," said Judy.

Pat Dolan said many homes in his neighborhood are overcrowded, lowering the value of his own house. The presence of Latinos, who Dolan presumes to be illegals, in nearby Lions Park makes him feel uncomfortable, he said.

Not Driven Out

"We (citizens) paid for the neighborhood park, the ball field, the swimming pool," said Pat Dolan. "We pay for the schools. They're here illegally, and I'm not going to be driven out of my goddamned house."

In Orange, a new organization called Americans for Border Control received contributions from about 300 members--the bulk of them from Orange County--since its founding in March, said Bill Butler, a consultant to Christian organizations who serves as the border control group's president. The organization is trying to build grass-roots support for stronger legislation against illegal aliens.

"There is a lot of anger out there," Butler said. "We get letters--and some of them are pretty ugly."

One frequently heard charge against illegals is that they commit a disproportionate share of crimes. Few police departments keep statistics on illegal alien participation in crime but those figures that do exist do not support the generalization that illegal aliens are prone to criminal activity.

"There are probably 60,000 or more undocumenteds in the city," said Santa Ana police Lt. David Salazar. "Most of them are up here to work, make a living, and get away from the economic problems of Mexico. In many cases, they are more victims of crime than we are."

In an 11-month period in 1984--the last time Santa Ana police compiled such statistics--illegal aliens were believed to have committed eight out of a total of 35 homicides. But 21 of the murder victims were illegals that year. Six of those were killed in bars. Eight were drug-related killings.

Drug Arrests

Since last October, when the Santa Ana Police Department began a crackdown on drug activity through its SWAT-HYPES (High Yield Police Enforcement Services) program, police have raided about 120 houses where they suspected large quantities of drugs were being sold. Almost 90% of the 400 people arrested in those houses were illegal aliens, said Salazar, who heads the SWAT-HYPES task force. When street arrests are included, illegals probably account for 40% to 50% of the 1,500 arrested since the start of the program, he said.

Illegal aliens are also recruited in Mexico to sell drugs in Anaheim, said Anaheim Police Chief Jimmie Kennedy. Kennedy estimates that 60% of the suspects his officers arrest on felony drug-sale charges are illegal aliens.

"The people up here working in the fields are probably not the ones selling dope on the streets," Kennedy said. But, he added, illegal aliens "generate a lot more police response and activity than regular residents of the city. When you put 14 or 15 of them in an apartment that's designed for three or four, living that close, sometimes in near poverty--that just tends to generate problems."

Police in Santa Ana and Costa Mesa, however, say they have no authority to randomly question people, regardless of their appearance, on their immigration status. And harassment of illegal aliens who otherwise are committing no crimes would create a climate of distrust that would result in many crimes going unreported and unsolved, police said.

Drug Informants

"Our informants in the drug cases are often undocumenteds," said Jose Vargas, Hispanic affairs officer for Santa Ana police. "They come from the same population."

Vargas--a former illegal alien who was deported 12 times before becoming a U.S. citizen--writes a police column for the Spanish-language weeklies in Orange County, in which he tries to explain to newly arrived immigrants that U.S. laws are the same as those of their home countries. One recent column was titled "The Consumption of Beer."

"One of the biggest problems is beer drinking in public," said Vargas. "In Mexico and other Latin American countries, beer is in a different category from tequila and other liquor. It's considered a 'moderate beverage' and even police in uniform can drink it. So we have to explain to people that here, it's an alcoholic beverage, and you can't drink it outside--not even in front of your own home."

Similar columns by Vargas have explained to Mexicans the local laws regarding auto insurance and firing off weapons to celebrate holidays--"a custom that makes residents very unhappy," said Vargas.

In Costa Mesa, police earlier this year opened a Westside substation and staffed it with bilingual police aides and one bilingual patrol officer to promote better relations between police and the heavily Latino population--mostly illegal aliens--surrounding the station.

"Many illegal aliens are afraid to come in and report crimes (fearing deportation)," said Chano Camarillo, the station's officer. But the Costa Mesa police do not care if residents are here illegally--they are concerned that the crimes are reported, Camarillo said. "We're trying to communicate that."

While some citizens want to keep illegal aliens out of the country, there is also a growing movement to protect the rights of immigrants, reinforced by recent government actions on the local and federal levels.

In Huntington Beach, city housing authorities earlier this year ordered landlords to correct more than 700 housing code and safety violations in 80 apartment units on Commodore Circle, where an estimated 60% of tenants are illegal aliens. All but one landlord made or are making the necessary repairs to the buildings, which included exterminating roaches and vermin, fixing broken plumbing, crumbling stairways and hazardous wiring.

The holdout landlord, Martin Settles, was fined $1,200 in Municipal Court earlier this month and was placed on a year's probation for failure to comply with the repair orders.

Money for Apartments

The city also committed more than $500,000 in federal money to help landlords clean up the dilapidated cul-de-sac. The package of grants and low-interest loans will pay for both street and building improvements.

In Santa Ana last year, illegal aliens didn't wait for the city to force landlords to make repairs. Instead, they called a rent strike, which sparked similar actions by about 400 other families in neighborhoods in Santa Ana and Anaheim. In many cases, the tenants succeeded in getting their landlords to repair the dwellings, and had their rents reduced in court for the months during which they lived in substandard conditions.

At the time, the action was an unprecedented example of illegal aliens--often reluctant to draw attention to themselves and risk deportation--openly protesting the conditions under which they must sometimes live in order to work here.

"That was a very significant step forward in community activism," said Peter Schey, executive director of the Los Angeles-based National Center for Immigrants' Rights Inc. "Hermandad Mexicana (the group that organized the strike) has been a catalyst in many ways for activism on behalf of disenfranchised immigrants. It is a unique organization in the sense that its base membership is largely made up of immigrants themselves."

Sometimes, help comes from unexpected places. When the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development issued new guidelines barring illegal aliens from federally subsidized housing, Rep. Robert K. Dornan (R-Garden Grove) went to bat for them.

The new HUD regulations would have prevented illegal aliens from living in federally subsidized units after July 30, even if they had been living with family members who are U.S. citizens and eligible for the assistance.

The new rules would also have prevented Garden Grove from using about $2.5 million in federal housing funds to help relocate illegal aliens displaced by a redevelopment project in Buena Clinton, one of the county's worst slums.

But an amendment offered by Dornan and adopted by the House changed the regulations to allow families to continue to live in federally subsidized units as long as at least one member is a U.S. citizen.

The amended bill, which has not yet been acted on by the Senate, would also allow cities to use federal housing funds to relocate illegal aliens when they are forced to move because of a federally sponsored renewal program.

"We do not want to support or encourage illegal immigration and have the taxpayers directly pay for it," said Dornan during the House debate. But without his amendment, he said, the HUD regulations would have stopped the Buena Clinton redevelopment plans "dead in their tracks" and would have "put families, children and old people on the street when the government put them in this housing to begin with."

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