The argument between those who want Laguna Beach’s Day Labor Site closed down and those who do not was taken to the street Saturday.
American flags and patriotic garb lined both sides of Laguna Canyon Road near the Day Labor Site, reminiscent of an Independence Day celebration, but the only fireworks were angry verbal salvos shot back and forth by anti-illegal immigration protesters and a group of immigrant rights counter-demonstrators.
The protest was held around dusk and was organized by Laguna Beach resident and anti-illegal immigration activist Eileen Garcia. Garcia has been active in protesting the site for more than two years, with the last rally taking place months ago.
“It’s nice to be back. We haven’t done this in a while,” Garcia said.
The late hour was intended to generate as much attention as possible with traffic heading for art festivals, Garcia said.
Both sides were acknowledged by people driving by with shouts of support, boos and a few one-fingered waves.
“The goal is too have as many people see our signs as possible,” Garcia said.
The 6 p.m. start time also made it easier for many of the protesters, most of whom are not from Laguna Beach, to make it in from another protest in Fallbrook which had been staged earlier in the day.
Protesters in favor of closing the Day Labor Site lined up across the street near Ganahl Lumber. The protesters shook signs, shouted slogans, and heckled their counter protesters who lined up along the day labor center’s fence.
Police officers were on hand to keep the factions separate and ensure the passionate embers burning on both sides didn’t erupt into an explosion.
According to Laguna Beach Police Sgt. Bob Rahaeuser, neither side needed to get a permit to stage the event. Rahaeuser was on hand to keep the protest in check.
One sign on the anti-illegal immigration side read “Only Traitors Hire Illegal Aliens,” and another said “Civil Rights for Americans, Not Illegals.” The group yelled things like “Amnesty? Hell No!” and “Deport the Mojados,” which is considered another term for the racial slur “wetback.”
The protesters offered many reasons and ideologies behind their quest to shut the day labor hiring center down.
Larry Colbertson, a self described veteran in the anti-illegal immigration movement, said he supports following the laws, and illegally entering the United States breaks the law.
“I’m going to help the groups that are trying to eradicate them,” Colbertson said.
Robert and Richard Thatcher said their roofing business has suffered at the hands of the cheap labor illegal immigrants offer.
They said they attend as many rallies as possible together, including the Fallbrook demonstration earlier in the day.
“They’ve taken all our jobs,” Richard Thatcher said.
Robert was indignant as well.
“It’s a slap in the face of all the people who fought for this country,” Robert Thatcher said.
Merle Lin compared operating the day labor center to a city-funded brothel. Nancy Sweet said that with a drought in Southern California, she’s scared of the impact immigrants will have.
“Who are we going to choose to get the water,” Sweet said. “Us or illegals?”
Robert Woo said part of the strength of anti-immigration activists is the networking power offered online. He said it keeps the group of tightly knit despite living all over Southern California.
“If it wasn’t for the Internet, none of this would be here,” Woo said.
The immigrant rights activists mirrored their anti-immigration counterparts with their own signs, slogans, swears and taunts.
Some held signs with anti-swastika symbols while others accused the Garcia’s counterparts of “White Ignorance.” Immigrant activist groups chanted “K-K-K,” comparing their opposition to the Ku Klux Klan.
Laguna Beach High School sophomore Elizabeth Shabazian pointed out a man with a sign that read “Day Labor Site Closed by Order of the Minutemen.”
“I highly doubt he had a middle-aged white man building his house,” she said.
Shabazian was one of several high school students who came to support the center. A few of the students said they had all read an article on Garcia, which inspired them to protest her event.
“They have a hidden agenda, which is hate,” said student Elissa Shopoff.
Garcia laughs that notion off, saying they are plain wrong.
“It doesn’t even phase me one bit, in fact I find it humorous because it’s so far from the truth,” Garcia said.
Some immigration advocates had other reasons for being there.
Lisann Martinez said she thinks immigrants are willing to do jobs many Americans aren’t. She also said many of the soldiers fighting in Iraq are immigrants.
“Who’s going to fight your wars for you?” Martizez asked.
Despite the counter demonstration and the heated words on both sides, Garcia chalks the protest up to a victory. She said there has been a growing number of people who show support driving by.
“When we first started coming out here, we barely were getting a horn honk,” Garcia said.
Garcia said there was little if any positive response when she started protesting about two years ago. Now the negative and positive reactions are more even.