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Inland residents to rally against Arizona ranchers

Tucson vigil will protest detentions of immigrants who trespass on border properties.

By Jeanette Steele
The Press-Enterprise

June 1, 2000

Some Inland residents are headed to Tucson, Ariz. to attend a vigil Friday protesting what they are calling vigilantism by ranchers there.

Tensions in Arizona have been running high because some landowners have been doing some border patrolling of their own. Armed landowners have begun patrolling their properties, looking for immigrants sneaking across the Mexican border onto their land, according to Arizona newspaper accounts.

Thousands of immigrants have been rounded up and detained by private citizens, and at least two shootings have been reported by Arizona newspapers.

Latino activists said at a Riverside news conference Wednesday that Mexicans crossing the border without proper documentation still have human rights.

"We're not going to permit our brothers and sisters (to be) treated as animals," said Gabby Ocon, a UC Riverside student who is a member of MEChA, a Latino student group.

"They are not prey. They are not animals. They are human beings," Ocon said. "They want to work and to build a better life for their families, just as our parents did."

The vigil is being organized by the Tucson-based Coalicion de Derechos Humanos, a 2-year-old human rights group.

"We want to call for peace at the border," spokeswoman Isabel Garcia said.

More than 200 people are expected at the Friday evening event, including a few dozen from the Inland area and Orange County. The Inland contingent plans to travel in a caravan of cars or a bus departing from Riverside at the Iowa Avenue Kmart parking lot at 7:30 a.m. Friday.

Apart from the vigil, a group of scholars and activists led by UC Riverside professor Armando Navarro will meet with the U. S. Border Patrol, a Mexican consul and immigrants in Douglas, Ariz. Navarro, who chairs the university's ethnic studies department, called the meeting a "fact-finding" mission and expects to present findings when he returns.

Carlos Juarez, a San Bernardino criminal-defense attorney who will attend the vigil and meeting, said he wants the U. S. Justice Department to launch an investigation into the ranchers' actions, which he called "atrocities."

The Arizona border issue has emerged in the past year. After the Border Patrol beefed up its presence at borders in California and Texas, those looking to come north increasingly have chosen Arizona.

With agents policing the populated areas, immigrants are trekking across private ranches to escape notice.

Landowners along the Arizona-Mexico border say undocumented immigrants trespass on their land, leaving behind human waste and trash, which sometimes harms livestock, according to news accounts.

Emotions spiked in mid-April, when a rancher created a brochure advertising "Fun in the Sun," which asked vacationers to help with neighborhood patrols watching for border crossers, Garcia said.

The Mexican government took a stand on the issue last month, when it asked its American attorneys to explore suing Arizona ranchers on behalf of detained Mexican citizens.

Mexico sees the situation as a violation of human rights, said Juan Jose Salgado, Mexican consul in San Bernardino, who praised the vigil participants.

"It's a very positive sign for the Mexican government to see Mexican Americans are concerned about the situation," Salgado said. "They are raising their voices to let people know that undocumented people and migrants are not alone."

The larger issue championed by some Wednesday is amnesty for undocumented workers as a way to stop the clandestine human caravan across the border.

Colton resident Maria Elena Rios called it shameful that those immigrants do not have residency status, yet do the jobs Americans wouldn't want.

"Go out to the desert. Those people are working so hard for $5.75," she said. "If they don't do it, we wouldn't do it."