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Supporters, Detractors Hold Opposing Rallies Over Santa Barbara News-Press ‘Illegals’ Headline

Police officers keep a watchful eye over De la Guerra Plaza as heated exchanges flare up between demonstrators, many of whom came from out of the area

[Click here for a related Noozhawk photo gallery.]

Though the volume from De la Guerra Plaza reached some high notes — several heated exchanges back and forth between Santa Barbara News-Press supporters and detractors were especially pointed — Monday's dueling protests outside the paper that's made global headlines for its word choice faded out to a lower pitch after several hours.

About 100 people, including members of the Santa Barbara Tea Party, gathered on the sidewalk outside the News-Press and overlooking De la Guerra Plaza on Monday to show their support for the paper, which has come under scrutiny after its Jan. 3 headline read "Illegals line up for driver's licenses."

The story detailed the recently passed Assembly Bill 60, a California law that went into effect Jan. 1 that no longer requires motorists to prove legal U.S. residence to obtain a driver's license.

The headline ran with a photo of people lined up at the Department of Motor Vehicles without specifying whether those pictured were undocumented.

Opponents of the headline met Jan. 8 to protest outside of the paper's offices and maintain that it violates Associated Press guidelines, which were changed last year to say that the term "illegal" should be used to describe an action and not a person. The stylebook also calls for specificity about how a person may have entered the country illegally and from where.

The paper's detractors called for a retraction by Jan. 19, which was not given by the paper. 

Conservative voices, like Jim Gilchrist of the Minutemen Project, have praised the paper, stating that "for decades, the U.S. media has cowered to intimidation from sinister reactionaries who would have all of us goose-stepping at their whim."

The paper's opponents stated that they'd be protesting on Monday, and about 100 people gathered on the lawn of De La Guerra Plaza to hold their own rally.

Supporters of the paper also sent out a press release, stating they would be demonstrating outside the paper, during the same time period on Monday, putting the two camps within shouting distance.

A woman who said she was a representative of the paper handed out a statement on News-Press letterhead to reporters at the scene on Monday, which reiterated its previous stance issued earlier this month. 

News-Press
Opponents of the Santa Barbara News-Press listen on Monday to speakers who decried the paper's move to include the word 'illegals' in a headline. (Lara Cooper / Noozhawk photo)

The statement said the paper's practice for almost a decade is to "describe people living in this country illegally as 'illegals' regardless of their country of origin. It is an appropriate term in describing someone as 'illegal' if they are in this country illegally," the statement said, adding that some people choose to follow the rules, while others enter the country on their own terms. "The latter are illegal in the eyes of this valued system and the Santa Barbara News-Press calls them so."

Supporters of the paper on Monday waved large American flags and spoke into mega phones, while others holding signs like "Je Suis News-Press" and "Stop Illegal Immigration" listened and cheered.

Several yards from where the paper's supporters had gathered, a plastic fence had been set up by police to allow both sides a demarcated area to protest. The fence was permeable, and several dozen police were in the area to supervise.

Several times, individuals from each side could be seen calling back and forth to each other, shouting and using mega phones.

"If you cross the border, you are here illegally. Get used to it!" one man with a mega phone yelled from the News-Press steps.

Santa Barbara resident Bonnie Raisin was one of the supporters there on the paper's steps, holding a sign reading, "AB60 Is Unconstitutional."

Raisin said her father and grandfather both knew Thomas M. Storke, storied publisher of the News-Press and Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist, and that she supported the paper in its word choice. She said she felt the paper was using accurate language by using the term "illegals," and that people in the country illegally know that they are in the wrong.

"They know in their heart of hearts what is right and wrong," Raisin said.

Many of the demonstrators were from out of the area, like Darrell Robinson, who had driven from Tustin on Monday morning to reach the demonstration in time, and was waving a large American flag in the street in front of the paper.

Robinson said many of those protesting with him had traveled from all over Southern California to join the protest, and that he saw the issue as one that threatens the First Amendment and free speech.

"We're supporting the News-Press and their right to say what they want," he said, adding that immigration remains an important issue in Southern California and the nation.

Robert Lauten of Orange County was also standing nearby, and said that when he found out about the paper being vandalized by graffiti several days after the headline ran, it made him angry and prompted him to join the protest.

"When I saw that it said 'Borders are illegal'… That's why I'm here," he said.

Lauten was one of several decrying economic policies like NAFTA and the Trans-Pacific Partnership, lamenting that they weakened border security.

Several others took turns on the mega phones to read copies of the First Amendment, encourage supporters to subscribe to the paper and lead chants of "USA! USA!"

Across the lawn, about 100 people had gathered to make good on the promise to protest the paper, lead by local activist group PODER, or People Organizing for the Defense of Equal Rights.

The group had organized a "teach-in" to talk about the headline, and one of those doing just that was Ralph Armbruster-Sandoval, a professor of Chicano-Chicana studies at UCSB. He spoke about the 2013 changes in Associated Press style and called on the paper to adopt them. 

"They've engaged in their own illegal activity over the last five to 10 years. It's a really silly newspaper," he said, decrying the headline the paper chose to run. "They're fighting so hard because we're winning," he said to cheers.

Candice Perez-Foust said that many of the cardboard butterfly wings donned by News-Press opponents on Monday symbolized the beauty of migration, like the monarchs that migrate along the California coast from Mexico each year. She said that her great-grandparents came to the Los Angeles area about 100 years ago, and traveled back and forth between the countries since.

"To migrate is to come and to go. … That's my history," she said. "We're just like those butterflies. … And the News-Press refuses to acknowledge that we are just as beautiful."

Pastor David Moore of New Covenant Worship Center also spoke, reflecting on Martin Luther King's legacy and called on the paper to treat people with equal dignity.

"If you can hear me, to our sisters and brothers of the Santa Barbara News-Press, we are all human," he said, and the pastor later added that he "specifically prayed for [News-Press Owner and Publisher] Wendy McCaw this morning."

Moore called on Christians in the audience to be sensitive to those in the throes of the immigration debate, reminding them that even Jesus' parents fled their home country because of religious and political persecution.

"What if they got to the border and the Egyptian Border Patrol turned them away?" Moore asked the crowd. "Don't forget that Jesus was human. Whatever we do, let's love all people as our people."

Noozhawk staff writer Lara Cooper can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

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