San Diego Jose Esteban held a rolled-up poster under one arm and his two-year-old daughter with the other as he walked toward Washington Avenue from the west side of the Escondido City Hall. Inside, that Wednesday evening, October 4, the city council was discussing an ordinance that would make it unlawful to rent to illegal immigrants.
While children tumbled in the grass laughing, a subdued crowd of 400 watched the meeting on a closed-circuit TV, an older model set up at Grape Day Park. The park is adjacent to city hall, a graceful curving building at Valley Parkway and Broadway, part of a complex that includes the California Center for the Arts, Escondido. Behind the TV set was yellow police tape and behind that were 20 uniformed officers. Two hundred officers, not just from Escondido but from the San Diego County Sheriff's office and departments as far-flung as the San Diego Harbor Police, stood by, some in full riot gear.
Police said the crowd outside numbered around 700 and that opponents of the proposed ordinance outnumbered supporters six to one. Inside, the 350 filling the seats in the council chambers appeared to be split evenly pro and con. Using the police estimates, there was one officer for almost every five people, inside and out. There would be one arrest, for public intoxication.
In front of city hall, about 15 feet apart and separated by two cordons of helmeted police and sheriff's deputies, people on either side of the issue faced off at a crosswalk in the circular driveway. A second television set at the city hall entrance carried the council proceedings for this crowd.
Some waved signs with photographs of the three councilmembers likely to vote yes on the ordinance -- Sam Abed, Ed Gallo, and Marie Waldron, who is running for reelection in November for the seat she's held for eight years. Under the photos was written "We Love You." Another sign: "Deportation, Sí Se Puede." (Deportation, yes, we can.)
Foes held signs that proclaimed "Brown Is Beautiful" and "USA -- Not Nazi Germany." At one point, opponents chanted "U-S-A, U-S-A..."
"I'm pretty sure you can read the signs of hate on the other side," said Jose Ayala, who was outside among the opponents. He wore a T-shirt that said "Hecho en California" (Made in California) and said the message applied to him, an American. "I think this is more of a hate issue than an issue of whether people are here illegally."
Another person among the opposition, a man who identified himself only as a Republican businessman, said, "It feels really mean-spirited to me."
He said he noticed that police officers facing the largely Hispanic opponents had clear plastic visors pulled down over their faces and that officers facing supporters of the measure did not. When he asked one of the officers why, he said, he was told, "Stand back."
"We're all Americans on both sides," the GOP businessman said.
In the meantime, Jose Esteban and his daughter were heading home. He said he was legal but his wife was not, and she still paid her share of taxes.
"It's something unbelievable that they're coming up with here," Esteban said of the city council. "The truth is, we came to work. If they approve the law, the little Mexican businesses will go out of business. We rent, we pay deposits up front. They're trying to take us out. I hope and pray this doesn't pass. The workers, after work, where are they going to go to live, under the bridge?"
The rolled-up poster Esteban carried promoted a movie called Los Minutemen Cazadores de Arizona (The Minutemen Hunters of Arizona), in which Esteban, a part-time actor whose day job is in construction, plays the role of a hunted Mexican who's just snuck over the border. "It's like they have nothing to do and no heart," he said of the Minutemen portrayed in the movie.
A contingent of real Minutemen stood at the corner of Valley Parkway and Broadway, waving signs at passersby. One, a retired biology professor at San Diego State University named Stuart H. Hurlbert, said he was concerned that the environment is not able to withstand the rapid growth in population wrought by rampant illegal immigration.
How to solve the problem? "It's a piece of cake," the professor said. "The problem is there are powerful, important people in Washington who don't want to solve the problem."
Hurlbert said the laws on the books need to be enforced, and recidivist border crossers need to be penalized. "You get crackers and Kool-Aid [when you're caught], and you get a bus ticket," he said.
The ordinance before the city council, six pages in length, notes that the state and federal governments "lack the resources to properly protect the citizens of the city of Escondido from the adverse effects of the harboring of illegal aliens, and the criminal activities of some illegal aliens."
It goes on to state that, upon a "valid complaint" from a resident, an official, or a business, the City would require a landlord to prove that tenants have "legal status." If the proof is not forthcoming, the landlord has ten days to evict the "illegal tenants."
If the landlord fails to act, the City could then suspend the landlord's business license and, during that time, prohibit the property owner from collecting rent from the alleged illegals. The landlord could also be subject to a fine of an as yet unspecified amount.
"A complaint which alleges a violation solely or primarily on the basis of national origin, ethnicity, or race," the language of the ordinance goes on, "shall be deemed invalid and shall not be enforced."
Inside the chambers, one speaker after another either denounced the pending ordinance as racist or praised the council for having the courage to take a stand against illegal immigration. Proponents of the measure said that illegal immigrants posed an imminent threat to the quality of life in this city of 140,000, whose population is 43 percent Hispanic. (How many Escondido residents are in the country illegally remains an open question.)