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Migrant Workers Moving Out of McGonigle Canyon

Audio

Aired 4/19/09

About 175 migrant workers who live in McGonigle Canyon searched for somewhere to sleep over the weekend. Members and supporters of the anti-illegal immigrant group the Minutemen gathered to protest the migrant camp. Migrants have camped on private property in the canyon for decades. In an effort to minimize confrontations between migrants and protesters, landowners said they'd charge anyone they caught on their property with trespassing. KPBS Border Reporter Amy Isackson has details.

Migrants returning from work late Saturday afternoon hurried to collect a blanket and a plastic tarp from volunteers and find a place to sleep where they'd be invisible.

Tomato picker Guadalupe Reyes from Oaxaca stuffed his things into a black trash bag. 

He said in addition to the landlords kicking them out, it was too dangerous to go back to the canyon…because the Minutemen were there. He said instead, he'd probably sleep in a field.

Earlier in the day about 150 members of the anti-illegal immigrant group gathered on the canyon rim and called for the workers to be deported. They chatted and sang songs as a news helicopter flew overhead. 

Minuteman Steven Shine worked hard to control his jumpy pit bull. He said plain and simple illegal immigrants need to go.

Steven Shine: Brings disease and we know they're bringing prostitutes, drugs, and everything in here and can't have it in America.

The City of San Diego has been working with landowners to slowly evict migrant workers from McGonigle Canyon. 

However, a recent NBC news report that claimed workers who live in the camp use drugs, bring prostitutes there and threaten area schoolchildren caught the attention of the Minutemen and conservative radio talk show host Rick Roberts and prompted the protest.

San Diego Police Captain Boyd Long patrolled the rally with about 25 other officers. Long says the crime rate around the canyon is no higher than anywhere else in the city. He says there's no evidence to link what crime there is to migrant workers and there's nothing to support the prostitution claims. Though Long says he's asked, NBC will not hand over its footage. 

Parked cars and satellite news trucks lined neighborhood streets above the protest.

Howard Merriken lives a block away. He says he's never had a problem with migrant workers. He says the Minutemen came in from other parts of San Diego. And he wishes they'd go home.

Howard Merriken: To me they're just creating a big stink about something that is going to exist here in this neighborhood before people were here and after people are long gone.

Meanwhile, Latino leaders in San Diego are calling on Mayor Jerry Sanders to continue with the plan to remove migrant workers from McGonigle Canyon slowly. Claudia Smith is with California Rural Legal Assistance. 

Claudia Smith: There are still tomatoes to be harvested. And if you shut down the encampments from one day to the next, all you're going to get is other encampments popping up in other places.

Mayor Sanders' spokesman could not be reached for comment. Amy Isackson, KPBS News.

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