Monday, November 16, 2009

Anti-amnesty theme draws crowd to local event

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YAKIMA, Wash. -- Wearing T-shirts bearing the slogan "Stop the Invasion" and applauding exhortations to "take back our country," opponents of amnesty for illegal immigrants gathered at a Grange hall in Yakima.

About 65 people attended Saturday's event, dubbed "Tea Party Against Amnesty and Illegal Immigration," at the Gardner Grange to hear a former U.S. Border Patrol agent speak and write quick letters to government officials.

"We can deal with it (illegal immigration)," Kent Lundgren, founder and past chairman of the National Association of Former Border Patrol Officers, told the audience. "We have lost the will to deal with it."

The event was one of 53 similar rallies held across the country Saturday to speak out against immigration reforms proposed by President Barack Obama's administration. The suggestions include a form of amnesty for undocumented immigrants already living in the United States, as well as promise for tougher enforcement and a streamlined system for legal immigration.

The attendees, some who came from Seattle and Prosser, shared coffee and homemade cookies with a backdrop of patriotic music, including "Ragged Old Flag" by Johnny Cash, coming from speakers hooked to a laptop. Afterward, about 20 or so waved flags and protest signs on the corner of Summitview and 40th avenues.

The rally was organized by several conservative nonprofit groups, Grass Roots of Yakima Valley, Minutemen Civil Defense Corps, Remember Us We the People and Yakima 9/12 Group.

Lundgren, the guest speaker, served more than 30 years in the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service, the precursor to the current Immigration and Customs Enforcement office.

To sporadic applause and an occasional "Amen," Lundgren told the audience that amnesty for current illegal immigrants would only encourage more illegal immigration.

What's more, he said, many Mexicans believe the same thing, according to a October Zogby International poll.

In the survey of about 1,000 people in Mexico, about 56 percent of the respondents thought giving legal status to illegal immigrants in the United States would make it more likely that people they know would go to the U.S. illegally.

Lundgren supervised the Yakima immigration office during President Ronald Reagan's amnesty in 1986. He called it a "disaster," leading to new waves of illegal immigrants.

He criticized the govern-ment for not doing enough to track down immigrants who have overstayed temporary visas, local law enforcement agencies for not communicating well with federal immigration agents, and states for issuing fishing and driver's licenses to undocumented immigrants.

"You don't get anything unless you can prove you belong here," he said.

After the speech, audience members huddled around tables to draft short letters to Obama and U.S. Sens. Maria Cantwell and Patty Murray, urging them to tighten border security, empower local police to enforce immigration laws, and crack down on employers that knowingly hire undocumented workers, among other pleas.

Organizers collected 40 handwritten letters and planned to fax them.

Merle and Dorothy Smith of Selah were among the letter writers.

Merle, 78, said he unknowingly hires illegal immigrants for his small cherry orchard occasionally. He takes down Social Security numbers during his seasonal harvest but can't tell if they're legitimate or not when lining up for work at 5:30 a.m. Months later, he gets a letter from the Social Security Administration notifying him of invalid numbers.

"There's no way to really tell," he said. "I don't think I should have to be the policeman. I got enough problems on my hands that time of morning."

Julie Deramo of Yakima said she is so frustrated by illegal immigration, bank bailouts and other polit-
ical issues that she is considering dropping her Republican Party mem-bership and registering as an independent.

The 40-year-old mother of two and former Marine said, "I have to do something."

Besides immigration, participants spoke in favor of limiting instruction in schools to English only and viewing global warming with skepticism.

All stressed they only opposed illegal immigration, not all immigrants or Mexicans.

"Many of us are already considered racist," said Bob West, chair of Grass Roots of Yakima Valley. "We need to expand our efforts to fight political correctness."