More than 1,000 people calling for greater enforcement along the U.S.-Mexico border were confronted Friday night by a group of counter-protesters who charged that the pro-enforcement contingent was racist and intolerant.
Representatives of the “Light Up the Border Campaign"--who have staged protests along the international boundary in recent months in an effort to dramatize what they view as the need for greater enforcement--defended their movement as an effort to reduce lawlessness in the border zone.
“This has nothing to do with racism,” said Muriel Watson, a leader of the pro-enforcement group.
“We want to make the border more secure for everyone, even those who cross it,” said Watson, widow of a former U.S. Border Patrol officer.
However, the counter-protesters
--who police said numbered about 175--charged that the pro-enforcement group is perpetuating negative anti-Latino sentiment.
“This is the biggest wave of anti-Mexican feeling that has been demonstrated in some time,” said Ted Arriaga, a National City schoolteacher who was among those marching in the counter-protest. “We felt it was time for us to come out here and make a stand against this racism.”
Police estimated that 1,300 pro-enforcement demonstrators were at the site, along Dairy Mart Road in San Diego, about one-half mile north of the border.
The groups traded barbs and insults, and, although the shouts were loud, police reported no violence or arrests.
In an effort to dramatize their opposition to the “Light Up the Border Campaign,” the counter-protesters held up strips of aluminum foil, mirrors and other reflective objects, symbolically reflecting the light back toward the United States.
As pro-enforcement protesters gathered along the road and turned on their vehicle lights, groups of undocumented immigrants were collecting on hillsides to the south, waiting for an opportunity to slip into the north.
Overhead, a U.S. Border Patrol helicopter periodically played its spotlight over areas in the brush where officers suspected undocumented immigrants were hiding.
Police said that about 300 vehicles were used in the protest, fewer than the
400 at a similar protest last month. Nonetheless, police said Friday’s crowd was somewhat larger than last month’s.
Friday’s event marks the sixth time that the activists have directed their headlights toward Tijuana. They seek the hiring of more border guards and the creation of more barriers, lights and obstacles to impede the influx of illegal aliens.
Critics contended that the pro-enforcement group’s efforts are short-sighted because they encourage negative attitudes toward Latin American immigrants.
“We found a lot of intolerance and a lot of racism among these people, and we felt we had to show a different side,” said Michael Schnorr, a college professor who was among the counter-protesters.
Earlier in the protest, an airplane rented by some of the counter-demonstrators flew overhead and flashed a banner saying, “One Thousand Points of Fear. . . . A New Berlin Wall.”