How about now (politicians) follow this example?
Activists worry that the city's enforcement of federal laws would affect more than just those guilty of serious crimes.
By Jennifer Delson, Times Staff Writer
January 30, 2007
In a city that has clashed loudly and publicly over immigration laws, the arrest of Marcelino Tzir Tzul underscored the worst fears in Costa Mesa's Latino community.
The 37-year-old illegal immigrant from Guatemala was picked up for riding his bicycle on the wrong side of the street, brought before a federal agent at the city jail and then shipped to a federal lockup to await his likely deportation.
For months, Latino activists had worried that Costa Mesa's decision to become one of the nation's first cities to enforce federal immigration laws would result in people such as Tzir being swept off the streets.
"This is exactly what we feared," said Amin David, who heads Los Amigos of Orange County, a Latino advocacy group.
But others, including the mayor of Costa Mesa, applaud the crackdown, even if it means that people who have committed minor crimes are caught in the process.
"I believe illegal immigration is wrong. It's breaking the law," said Mayor Allan Mansoor, an Orange County sheriff's deputy.
During a three-week period in December, 46 Latino men picked up in Costa Mesa were taken to the Mira Loma Detention Center in Lancaster to await deportation hearings. Half were held on misdemeanor charges.
Tzir, who came to this country illegally in 2005, was headed to work on a chilly January morning when his luck ran out.
A religious man who kept a Bible by his bed and three cheap suits in a closet for nightly church services, Tzir had come to Costa Mesa to send money home to his wife and three children.
Wearing work boots and a blue sweatshirt stained from the previous day's work, Tzir rode his blue mountain bike down Placentia Avenue, through the heart of the town's Latino community. When he turned left on Hamilton Street, an officer stopped him and told him he was riding on the wrong side of the road. He also didn't have a bicycle license.
Without an ID, Tzir was taken to the city jail, where a federal agent recently assigned to the city determined he was in the country illegally. Before he could alert family or friends, he was shipped to the lockup in Lancaster to await a deportation hearing.
"The sin I committed was to enter this country illegally," Tzir said in a recent jailhouse interview in Spanish. "I regret the pain I have caused my family, but I will leave with my head held high because I know that all I did here was to work hard."
Although Tzir's crime was minor, many of those swept up in Costa Mesa in December were arrested on serious charges. Of 20 arrest records the city was able to provide, most involved men in their mid-20s charged with crimes such as selling drugs and burglary. One involved a 19-year-old accused of having sex with a minor.
Virginia Kice, a spokeswoman for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, said one man had an arrest record in five states and had been deported three times. Another had drug convictions and had been deported five times, she said.
Wendy Leece, who was recently elected to the City Council, said having the agent in the jail would make the community a safer place.
"There are a broad spectrum of crimes being committed," Leece said. "Maybe some are misdemeanors, but they are lawbreakers."
By the time Tzir was able to call his wife, news of the ongoing crackdown had drifted through the city's immigrant community. Rumors about immigration raids and tips on avoiding the police spread.
"Do the police want to pluck people off the streets like him when there are so many people who commit real crimes?" wondered the Rev. Oscar A. Ramirez of Iglesia Fuente de Amor (Fountain of Love Church) in Costa Mesa, where Tzir taught Bible classes.
Others in Costa Mesa — where the immigration debate has colored local elections, drawn the attention of groups such as the Minuteman Project and become the fodder of national talk radio — see no shame in someone such as Tzir being picked up and ultimately deported.
"The law is the law, and we need to enforce it, not here and there. They are all criminals the minute they step across the border," said Jason Mrochek, director of the Federal Immigration Reform & Enforcement Coalition, which runs anti-illegal-immigrant protests throughout Southern California.
Tzir said he felt reluctant to sneak into the United States and did so only because of a pressing need for money.
In Guatemala, he was a nurse in a rural health center outside Quiriguá, a small town best known for its Mayan ruins, where he dispensed prescription medicines, helped deliver babies and tended to the injured.
He earned a college degree in health and studied the Bible so he could become a minister.
When his employer cut his salary from $782 to $339 a month, he and his wife feared the money wouldn't be enough to make ends meet. "I felt all the doors closed to me, and I needed quick relief," Tzir said.
Tzir's wife called a relative in Costa Mesa for help. The relative, who worked as a nanny in an Orange County home and declined to be identified because she also is in the country illegally, said she decided to pay a smuggler $14,000, which she had saved, to bring Tzir, as well as her own son, to Costa Mesa.
When he arrived in Costa Mesa, Tzir said he found work quickly, pulling in about $400 a week.
"He was motivated by the opportunities in this country," said roommate Marcos Roa, 53, a waiter in a Costa Mesa restaurant. "He dreamed of bringing his wife and children here."
At first he lived with a relative but later moved into an aging apartment complex on Hamilton Avenue, where he paid $225 a month to share a bedroom.
He cooked his own food, read the Bible and books on the English language, and spent four nights a week at the Iglesia Fuente de Amor, an Assemblies of God church, where once a week he taught Bible classes. Rudy Sandoval, a fellow Guatemalan who hired Tzir to install hardwood floors, said they spent much of their free time talking about the Bible and their faith.
"He was serious. No liquor. No smoking. No women," said Sandoval's wife, Elma. "Not even a curse word."
The night before he was picked up by police, Sandoval said, Tzir talked about how much he missed his family, saying, "What am I doing here? I've got to go home."
Costa Mesa Police Chief Christopher Shawkey, a former Phoenix police commander recently named to the city's top police post, said his department was simply enforcing the law as it always had.
"No dictate has been issued …. We're not going to change our enforcement policies because of this," Shawkey said. "We need to remain consistent."
Shawkey said he called the Orange County Human Relations Commission to determine how to alleviate fears about the federal agent, but no decisions have been made.
"I would hope that the community would still have trust in the Police Department," Shawkey said.
For local Enriqueta Monterroso, who said she entered the United States illegally eight years ago, the crackdown has awakened memories. "I feel like I did in my last days in Guatemala when we thought the army would arrest us for any little thing," she said.
Tzir, who is expected to remain jailed until his likely Feb. 13 deportation date, said he realized it was wrong to sneak into the United States. But, he said, the issue was far more complex than that.
"There is no question that I broke the law," Tzir said. "But it's very clear that immigrants are the motor of the most powerful economy in the world. Immigrants have a value. They do what Americans will not do."