Activists: 'This isn't the way Laguna functions'

Immigration rights activists are planning to be at the Laguna Beach Bus Depot today to hand out literature and "bear witness" in case Border Patrol agents conduct a rumored enforcement activity, part of a series of actions over the past several weeks in Laguna.

Glenna Matthews, of the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship's Social Action Committee, said her group had been informed by a Laguna Beach police officer that the Border Patrol is planning a checkpoint at the north, south and eastern borders of the city Friday, and that agents would also target people getting off buses in Laguna Beach.

"This isn't the way Laguna functions," Matthews said. "We're pretty outraged about this kind of treatment of people in our town."

Matthews said she has a friend who is an attorney in Berkeley, and when protests erupted over a similar immigration crackdown in that city, the immigration enforcement action was halted.

"The attorney in Berkeley said it was useful to have someone bearing witness and handing out materials about people's rights," Matthews said. "This is an informal action by our committee members, reacting to a perceived emergency."

Disbelief at checkpoints

City Manager Ken Frank was incredulous at the idea that Border Patrol would set up checkpoints. "I can't believe they would do checkpoints," he said. "That's unheard of."

Frank said he is aware that Border Patrol has been working in Laguna Beach and stopping people to determine if they are in the country legally, but the federal agency does not notify the city of their activities.

"They don't tell us when they are here, and we don't work with them," Frank said. "They are in other cities, too."

Frank said he would "discount" rumors of checkpoints but could not refute them, after talking to federal authorities.

A San Diego Sector Border Patrol spokesman said that an increase in human smuggling incidents in Laguna Beach has led the agency to extend its patrol activities north, into Laguna Beach.

Day Labor site sees downturn

So far, the Day Labor hiring site on Laguna Canyon Road has apparently not been targeted by immigration authorities. But the number of job-seekers has dropped significantly at the site as stories accumulate of Border Patrol or ICE agents stopping people with a Hispanic appearance in the city, according to David Peck, of the Cross-Cultural Council, which operates the facility on Laguna Canyon Road.

"We are hearing from people on the buses that they [agents] are getting on and profiling people," Peck said. "They're going up to people with a Latino appearance and asking for documents.

"I've been here 32 years and we've never had Border Patrol in Laguna before. Everyone's talking about checkpoints. Everyone's scared. It's a whole new level [of activity]."

Peck said he has heard of one bus boy at a downtown café being picked up by immigration, and that one local contractor said he has lost most of his workers due to the crackdown.

In the wake of the activity, the number of people seeking jobs at the site has plummeted by 25% to 30%, Peck said. The hiring site has traditionally been "off limits" to immigration authorities under an agreement with Laguna Beach city officials. The site is designed to give job-seekers a place to solicit employment away from sidewalks and street corners and is a key component of the city's 20-year-old anti-solicitation ordinance.

Frank, however, said he believes the downturn in job-seekers is a result of the slowdown in the economy, not Border Patrol activities.

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