Living on with 'Rule'

Juan Garcia is an illegal immigrant from Mexico, but he doesn't concern himself with the Costa Mesa City Council's "Rule of Law" proclamation, which symbolically opposes people like him who live and work in the city.

He is not alone.

Nearly a dozen illegal immigrants from Mexico queried on the city's predominantly Latino West Side said they're too busy trying to make ends meet to fear deportation by the police or federal immigration agents. But that's not to say that their chances of being deported aren't in the back of their minds.

Although Garcia's been living in Costa Mesa for nearly two decades, he says he's got more to worry about — like paying the rent on his two-bedroom apartment on the West Side and supporting his wife and two children in a city where the cost of living is high — than the council's proclamation.

Of course, everything is relative, he pointed out on a recent afternoon during an interview in the doorway of the bar where he works. You should have seen where he grew up on the outskirts of Morelia in the state of Michoacán, where there was no running water or electricity, he said.

There's a reason why the entire cow is eaten from head to toe in most of Mexico, he added.

"Passing laws or resolutions or whatever you want to call them is nothing new here in Costa Mesa or California," said Garcia, a 40-something immigrant who was once a bookkeeper in Mexico before he illegally swam across the Rio Grande in 1995.

The problem, Garcia said, is that as diverse as the illegal immigrant population is, everybody has been lumped into one mass, which few, it would seem, try to understand.

"As a Mexican, we grin and bear it," he said in Spanish. "You kind of get used to all the hatred. But we're the first ones out there when … a house needs to be built or the yard needs to be cleaned up after a storm."

It's all about supply-and-demand economics, said the university-educated Garcia.

And as long as there are jobs in Southern California and the lure of opportunity in the United States, Garcia said illegal immigrants will keep crossing oceans of desert to get here.

Garcia's opinion on the illegal immigration issue is far from scandalous, given his background and circumstances.

But the opinions on the streets do vary in Costa Mesa, now that the council has taken a stance against them and also has an anti-solicitation ordinance that, detractors say, unfairly targets day-laborers.

Now, with the Arizona law, the issue of illegal immigration has taken on even greater prominence, where Mexican nationals in the streets of Costa Mesa now tell stories about friends of friends who've fled Arizona.

While some hail it as a victory for the state to exercise its rights in the absence of federal law; others view it as an outright assault on civil rights, while there are some in Costa Mesa who say that "being illegal is being illegal." In their view, everybody should toe the line and come to the United States legally.

"I had to wait in line. I think everybody else should wait in line," said Lien Dinh, a Vietnamese immigrant who came to Costa Mesa in 1992. She followed in the footsteps of her older sister, who came shortly after the Vietnam War ended in 1975.

Now a U.S. citizen, she came here as a legal immigrant under a visa, or "green card." She now works at 88 Liquor near the corner of Anaheim Avenue and 19th Street.

While many of the illegal immigrants are law-abiding citizens, she said there are also quite a few who commit crimes in the United States, beginning at the outset with their cross-border journey.

"I don't think anybody should be able to break the law," she said.

And yet Vietnam was at war at the time; now, it's Mexico's turn, and it's a drug war.

"Mexico can be a violent country," said Claudia Esparta, a legal immigrant who works at Samara, a music store next door the liquor store. "It's more tranquil here, that's for sure. But life is difficult. There was a time when you could get credit and you could work, work to pay everything off. Those days are over."

Robert Collins, a homeless Boston native, said he's not a "racist," and that he "doesn't mind the Mexicans."

"They help me out when I need it," said Collins. "It's rare that I see any who are homeless. They all seem to have their own places. They must be doing something right."

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