LA Rebellion
A Part of the Story

The Homeland War

The Homeland War...

SAN JUAN CAPISTRANO, 27 January 2007 – It was just another skirmish in the two-year war on migrants. Sixty minutemen, from San Diego Minutemen and Save Our State, tried to run day laborers out of San Juan Capistrano, but they were held at bay by thirty or so determined day laborers and their supporters.

But the terrain has changed in this low-grade war. The Border Patrol still shoots and kills people on the border, but only a few a year. Thousands of others die because they’re forced to cross through the heat of the desert or the cold of the mountains. What’s new is a year’s worth of terrorism, come home to southern California just last week. Last week, Department of Homeland Security ICE agents rousted more than 700 people from their beds in an early morning raid across the Los Angeles area demanding papers, leaving in their wake terrified neighbors and children too fearful to attend school. Yesterday, in Contra Costa County, federal agents identified themselves as police to gain admittance to people’s homes, and grabbed more than 200 people off bicycles and away from their dinner tables. Reports to date list only one of these nearly one thousand detainees who has been arrested for a felony. The rest were tossed into detention camps, and half have already been shipped away. Five weeks ago agents with automatic rifles raided workplaces in a coordinated raid across several midwestern states, identified people who didn’t appear to be foreign-born with blue plastic wristbands, and transported the Spanish-surnamed people thousands of miles from family and lawyers to the camps. It took a month and a union-instigated lawsuit to locate everyone.

President Bush announces that he plans to continue deportation “without animosity.” The Democratic-controlled Congress sets their immigration priorities: more confrontations at the border with Mexico, more workplace roundups, and, for those migrants who manage to remain, nearly impossible hurdles to legal status.

Leading provocateurs of the anti-migrant sentiment, the minutemen, early this morning targeted a donut store in San Juan Capistrano, where migrants wait and hope that more affluent people will hire them for a day’s labor.

Today the laborers were beset with dozens of U.S. flags and nearly as many video cameras, patriotic songfests, and five hours of insults and intimidation from a bullhorn from the minutemen across the street. “Too much teatro,” a worker concluded with a frustrated, slightly disgusted expression.

With minutemen, jornaleros, and migrant advocates interspersed on the other side of Doheny Park Road — and the cops nearly invisible in a nearby parking lot — the protest became a verbal tournament.

The bullhorn announced, “you see the mix of races,” referring to an African-American woman and a Mexican migrant among the otherwise white minuteman faces. A “patriot,” meanwhile, declared, “The Irish didn’t drive down wages.”

Another confronted a migrant supporter who was wearing a bandanna: “Are you a leper? Are you on probation or parole?”

One minutewoman challenged the defenders by mocking their youth. “I give you ten more years,” she pontificated to one labor supporter. “What? To get bitter and cynical and become a minuteman?” he retorted. Following her friend’s theme, she responded to a compatriot, “He’s a 17-year-old leper who works at Mother’s Market.”

A contractor hired a jornalero, and a minuteman on a motorcycle took off down the street after the truck.

“You need a benevolent and strong government system,” another nationalist offered, “like the Roman Empire and the Egyptians.” He claimed the ancient Egyptians didn’t have slaves, and didn’t mention Rome’s habit of feeding prisoners of war to lions for public amusement. A few moments later he added, “My grandfather was Mexican. . . . OK, white Mexican, but so what?”

The bullhorn declared that migrants are subhuman. “You can tell by the clothes they wear, by their attitude, their language.” Then the bullhorner pointed to a large sign with professionally-produced lettering and proclaimed, “Brokebutt Border, where Americans get screwed.” He hopped around shaking his ass at the crowd across the street and called over his shoulder, “Kiss me before he breaks it off in there” and “It’s getting a little raw down there.”

A cop pulled up and asked the minutemen on the counterprotesters’ side to chill with the inflammatory rhetoric. At the minutemen’s insistence, he rebuked a counterprotester before he left. When he drove off, a minuteman complained to a small group of counterprotesters, “You’re not going to solve anything by calling names. Say you’re the only one smoking crack and sticking gerbils up your ass. Is it fair to generalize?” A man snapped back, “This is not a ‘let’s work together’ rally.” “You guys are scapegoating poor people,” one supporter told a video camera clutched protectively in front of a minutewoman’s face. “If you want affordable health care, talk to the government.” The only response was from a minuteman who mumbled, “He’s a chica.”

The bullhorner declared, “The rest of us have our fingerprints registered by the FBI. We don’t know who you are.”

A woman spat on a minuteman organizer’s flag. The minuteman sought out a videographer to record the woman’s face while proclaiming he didn’t care about the spitting incident. Meanwhile, a minutewoman pronounced, “Spitting on the flag — that’s desecrating the flag. That’s a federal offense.”

A contractor pulled into the parking lot, and the minutemen rushed over to deter him. The contractor assured the minutemen that he paid all the requisite business and employee taxes. The call went out from the workers and their supporters: would a minuteman take the job? Eventually a white-bearded minuteman agreed and climbed into the truck, to the laughter of the laborers. The contractor and the minuteman drove off, but the minuteman reappeared about half an hour later, admitting that he had been fired.

The bullhorn called out “Whose streets?” The counterprotesters quickly shot back, “Our streets!” “Who’s jobs?” Before the minutemen caught on, the counterprotesters chimed in, “Our jobs!” “Whose country?” A pause, and then a handful of minutemen recognized their cue: “Our country,” they mumbled.

One Mexican worker told the minutemen, “California is Mexico. Texas is Mexico. Arizona is Mexico. It isn’t now,” he clarified, “but it is.”

Several minutemen jumped in. “I can’t go to the emergency room and get care.” “My father had to take his business out of state because he wouldn’t hire illegal aliens.” “How come hookers can’t work legally but illegal aliens can?” “Morally, it’s never right to break a law, whether it’s right or not.”

Off to one side, a minuteman sneered and quietly threatened a counter protester, “You’ll be in a hospital longer than I’ll be in jail.”

“What do we want?” the bullhorn asked. “Deportation!” The minutemen had found the rhythm. “When do you want it?” “Now!”

A minutewoman continued the conversation: “Have you ever seen an M-16?”

A migrant supporter asked, “What’s the problem?” “They’re breaking laws” was the response. “No, what’s the problem with these people being here?” he persisted. “The problem is that these are people not obeying the laws of the land.” Another added, “Laws are meant to make a cohesive society.” A counterprotestor retorted, “What about slavery? Those were unjust laws.” A minuteman replied, “We’re talking about now, not then. Are you a communist? Are you a Mexican? Are you a proud American citizen?”

The counterprotestors didn’t answer.

After exhorting a jornalero ally for calling a minuteman a “fucker,” a minutewoman finally conceded, “The Lord Jesus Christ is the only way out of this mess.” A beat, then the man shot back, “You believe in god, I believe in cuss words.”

As the flagwavers across the street sang “God Bless America,” the bullhorn implored, “Where are we going to go when the United States becomes a horrible, awful place to live?”

A minutewoman declared, “If you can’t feed ’em, don’t breed ’em.” Asked if she was saying Mexicans have too many kids, a minuteman passing by answered, “Yes.” Then it was her turn: “Illegal aliens cross the border with fifteen children. They expect us to pay for them.” Her friend added, “We put stray dogs to sleep in Los Angeles. It’s comparable. There’s a lot of overbreeding.”

The bull horn queried, “Who are we saying we’re better than?”

One minuteman was asked about the “Europeans who came over here, walked off the boat, and killed and raped and destroyed everyone in their path.” “Crap happens,” he shrugged, “It happens to every race.”

It was noon, the minutemen were packing it up, so I dashed across the street, where I found four white guys with close-cropped hair lurking behind the minuteman line. “Are you minutemen?” I opened the conversation. “No, but after today, I’m going to join,” the lead guy said. A few minutes later I was told to go back to my country. “I don’t want to push ‘one’ for English,” he told me. Is it a problem to push that button? “It’s an insult,” he announced to a backslap from one of his pals.

Then, except for two stragglers, the minutemen were gone. A former day laborer told me his story. “I worked hard in this country for twenty-five years, paid taxes, never took anything for nothing, raised four children. I’m retired, and they want to separate me from my family.

“This isn’t the land of the free,” he went on. “You pay for everything here. Last week I paid $400 to take my children’s children to Disneyland, and that was just to get in. Three dollar Cokes, three dollars for a champurrado.” He shook his head.

The minutemen promised to return next week to San Juan Capistrano. And like the swallows, and in spite of the efforts of the minutemen, the Department of Homeland Security, the Congress, and the President, the migrants will be there, too.

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a loincloth?

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he lasted half an hour

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