continued At 8:00 a.m. on a Thursday in November, 14 laborers clustered in the shopping center parking lot. Alan Cabrera, another New York City transplant, stood among them. Cabrera runs a printing and graphic design business on Vista Way. His parents are Colombian immigrants, and he had spoken about racism at the council meeting the night the ordinance was adopted. "They passed the ordinance not for the community," he said. "They passed it for the Minutemen. These guys here [the day laborers] work. They're not selling dope; they're not selling crack.
"This is night and day from New York, man," he added. "People talk down to you here. Here the workers talk to you with their heads down. Nobody talks about their exploitation; they only talk about their status. These Minutemen, they got a grudge. They got hatred going, man."
Inside the Vons, in the men's restroom, "Beaners Go Home" is scrawled on a tissue dispenser. Under it, someone has scratched, "We are home."
A man coming out of Yum Yum Donuts, who identified himself as a landscaper, said he had hired day laborers in the past. "The thing is," he said, "here, you work one day and you eat one week. And over there [south of the border], you work one week and you eat one day."
"At this moment," said Robert Antonio, a 19-year-old laborer, "I feel a little bit troubled, you know, because there's not much work." Antonio said that the previous day he gave up waiting for a job offer after three or four hours and went home to do laundry and clean the house. "I borrow money from friends. Sometimes I borrow $100, $150. The Minutemen are pressuring people not to hire here."
Cabrera and others, including city officials, say hiring has been drying up at the shopping center since the ordinance passed. According to the city code compliance office, about 100 workers used to gather in the parking lot regularly. The average in mid-December had dropped to about 30. The Saturday before Thanksgiving, the workers were far outnumbered by demonstrators, many wearing bandannas to mask their faces.
Jeff Schwilk, an Oceanside resident who retired from the United States Marine Corps as a staff sergeant and became a leader of the San Diego Minutemen, said by phone that the ordinance "drove a lot of the guys away" but still contains a glaring loophole. "It does not forbid anybody from hiring illegal aliens," he said. "All it does is, basically, in a way, condone the behavior it was meant to deter."
Schwilk has an ally in Michael Spencer, a member of the Vista Citizens Brigade. The brigade formed last February to fight illegal immigration, launching its drive with a rally at the shopping center. People from the San Diego Minutemen joined the rally that day.
"I was a frustrated citizen at that point," Spencer said in a phone interview. Spencer, who worked as an electrical engineer for high-tech companies before going into business for himself doing custom finishing for new homes, subsequently became a Minuteman. "That site had become a center for chaos. We basically showed up at every city council meeting and told the government how bad the situation was.
"They would mob anyone who came in and looked sideways at them, and some would just jump in the cars," he said of the laborers. "There was public urination and defecation, and they were generally making it a hostile environment for people who wanted to shop at Vons and the other stores. This is a big problem, and you're never going to solve it with one fell swoop, so we're nipping away at the corners and, so to speak, we're draining the swamp."
Spencer said illegal immigrants tax the resources of social service agencies in Vista and commit a disproportionate amount of the crime. According to Captain Glenn Revell of the San Diego County Sheriff's office, which provides Vista's law enforcement, the sheriff does not routinely collect data on the immigration status of those arrested.
The Vista Citizens Brigade, Spencer said, wants federal authorities to come to the site and check the immigration status of the laborers. "I have a mantra: it's a federal problem, and they are passing the buck. I think we'd like to have most or all of the illegal aliens moved back to where they belong."
Spencer pointed out that there are like-minded groups made up of Hispanics opposed to illegal immigration. His wife, a Mexican woman, belongs to one called You Don't Speak for Me.
"Lately, I've counted 40 guys at the site," Spencer said toward the end of November. "It's a rebound of the infection. You stopped taking the antibiotics too soon, and now the infection is back.... We're going to have to do something. Like in musical chairs, when the music stops, I don't want to be the last one standing and having the illegal aliens all sitting down."
Now the American Civil Liberties Union of San Diego and Imperial Counties and California Rural Legal Assistance, Inc., have brought suit in U.S. District Court on behalf of two legal, permanent residents of Vista. Dorothy Johnson, an attorney from Rural Legal Assistance, said one resident supplements his minimum-wage jobs with "occasional day labor," while the other relies heavily on it for his sole means of support. They argue that their rights to equal protection under the Fourteenth Amendment are being breached because the city council's motivation included discrimination by race or national origin.