More than 1,000 people gathered along the U.S.-Mexico border Friday and jointly turned on their vehicle headlights at dusk to show their dissatisfaction with the continued flow of illegal immigrants from Latin America.
It was the largest turnout to date in the protest, organized by a loose coalition of area residents who want to dramatize what they consider a lack of control along the notoriously porous international boundary. Some have criticized the group as racist, a charge dismissed by protest organizers.
There were several heated discussions between the protesters and others who took a more sympathetic view of illegal immigration, but no violence was reported.
Protesters showed up in more than 400 vehicles, police said.
“I just want the place lit up, and with that will come proper attention and proper law enforcement,” said Muriel Watson, a San Diego County resident who is the widow of a longtime Border Patrol officer.
The so-called “Light Up the Border” activists, all of whom appeared Friday to be non-Latino, advocate an agenda that is mostly at odds with the stance of pro-immigrant groups, many of which have large Latino representation. The protesters are seeking, among other things, increased U.S. border enforcement, construction of additional fencing and other barriers.
The growing strength of the lighting activists--the movement only started last November--underscores the increasing polarity of views along the U.S.-Mexican border, where the flow of undocumented migrants has long been a controversial issue.
“This is pure racism,” said Juan Gonzalez, a 44-year-old Mexican laborer and resident of the border neighborhood of San Ysidro who happened to be driving by as the protesters gathered. In response, he played loud Mexican music on his car radio.
The protesters reject charges of racism.
“This is not a racist movement by any stretch of the imagination,” said Audrey Bergner, a La Jolla resident, who handed out a press release placing undocumented persons in four categories: one sympathetic grouping--"poor people looking for a better way of life” and three less complimentary ones--criminals, drug smugglers and terrorists.
She, like others, blamed undocumented people for a wide array of problems, from crime to the spread of disease to what she views as the downfall of the public education system. Critics dispute the connection between those problems and illegal immigration. She also expressed the opinion that the undocumented take jobs from legal U.S. residents.
Friday’s event was the fifth time that the activists had turned their headlights toward Tijuana, aiming their beams at groups of prospective border-crossers, many of them women and children, who nightly attempt to enter the United States without documents.