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Immigration Activists Gather

Times Staff Writers

Prominent anti-illegal-immigration activists joined this weekend to call on public officials to enforce federal immigration laws and protect the country’s borders.

Buoyed by last month’s Minuteman Project citizen border patrols in Arizona, leaders made plans for a multi-state coalition of organizations that could be called the Minuteman Campaign USA.

The groups called for the creation of a legal defense fund, a campaign to target employers who hire undocumented workers, and increased apprehension of illegal immigrants who commit crimes.

“The spring of 2005 will be looked back upon as the time when America woke up and started taking this country back,” William Gheen, president of Americans for Legal Immigration, told the crowd Saturday.

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Organizers said they had so far sold more than 400 tickets for the three-day event called the “Unite to Fight Against Illegal Immigration Summit,” although the audience Saturday at the Cashman Theater north of the Las Vegas Strip appeared to be much smaller.

The event was sponsored by the Wake Up America Foundation, founded last year by Mark Edwards, a Las Vegas radio personality whose show focuses on illegal immigration.

Before leaving early in the day, a group of protesters stood in front of the theater, calling the attendees Nazis and racists.

Speakers at the event include Barbara Coe, a co-author of California’s Proposition 187, which sought to deny some public benefits to illegal immigrants; James Gilchrist, founder of the Minuteman Project; Rep. Tom Tancredo (R-Colo.); and relatives of victims of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

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Gilchrist, a retired Aliso Viejo accountant honored Thursday at a Garden Grove rally that turned into a melee, was repeatedly hailed as a hero of the movement.

Leaders said the conference allowed them to share ideas and plan strategies. Coe said it had been years since she’d seen an agenda that drew so many like-minded people. Speakers urged the audience, which reportedly included several former law enforcement agents, to regularly contact their elected officials to press for reforms.

Michael Cutler, a former agent for what used to be the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service, said he had come from Brooklyn, N.Y., to offer his knowledge and expertise.

“Illegal immigration is starting to become a household problem. People are seeing day laborers on the corners all over this country,” he said.

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The event took on the feel of a religious revival as the mostly older white audience, in attendance from around the country, interrupted speakers with applause and chants.

They shouted “Send them home!” -- referring to their desire for mass deportations of illegal immigrants. When such officials as Los Angeles Mayor-elect Antonio Villaraigosa and state Sen. Gil Cedillo (D-Los Angeles) were mentioned, they yelled “traitors!”

“It’s time to start kicking politicians out of office,” Andy Ramirez told the group. His organization, Friends of the Border Patrol, plans a citizen border watch this summer in California.

Bob Laas, a retired Las Vegas bartender, said he attended Saturday to get ideas about how to combat illegal immigration.

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“I’m tired of the lopsided migration of Mexicans into our country,” he said. “It’s a bunch of baloney saying they are doing jobs other people won’t do.”


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