illegal immigration

We have a winner!

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Oregonians for Immigration Reform announces our $1,000 scholarship winner. Victoria Hittner of Salem, was chosen as the winner.

For those of you that missed the April 15th deadline, please apply again next year.

Highway safety sign becomes running story on immigration

Perhaps nowhere else could such a road sign have been born.

A ghostly silhouette of a mother, father and little girl running, their bodies leaning forward as if into the wind. The child's pigtails fly behind her as the family dashes across a stark yellow background, accompanied by one word: CAUTION.

Caltrans posted several of these signs along San Diego freeways beginning in 1990, when the city was a funnel for undocumented immigrants headed north. The signs were intended to warn drivers they might encounter people frantically darting across lanes of traffic as they tried to evade border security.

Dozens of immigrants were struck and killed from the mid-1980s to early 1990s, some in front of horrified family members, as stunned drivers failed to stop in time.

The freeway deaths ended long ago, but the signs remain. And, in the intervening years, the silhouetted image has quietly taken on a life of its own.

Today, the running family is found on T-shirts, coffee mugs, stickers, book covers and CDs, in fine art and even hanging in an exhibit at the Smithsonian.

The characters have been reinterpreted carrying surfboards and wearing Pilgrim hats. One depiction shows them being followed by a man with a gun.

The image has become a Rorschach test for how people feel about illegal immigration and immigrants in general. Some have claimed it as a symbol of Latino identity. Others wear it as a badge of anti-immigrant sentiment.

"It has become an icon that signals immigration and the political issues surrounding immigration, which are far from resolved in our society," said Otto Santa Ana, a professor of Chicano studies at UCLA.

And yet some see it as nothing more than a quirky regional souvenir.

"Come to San Diego," one T-shirt reads. "Bring your family."

The assignment to create the road sign landed on the desk of Caltrans graphic artist John Hood in the late 1980s. He was asked to design an image that, in the blink of an eye, would alert drivers to the unexpected sight of pedestrians in their headlights.

Text signs that had been posted on Interstates 5 and 805 near the border, urging "Caution Watch for People Crossing Road," proved too wordy to register with motorists. Meanwhile, close to 100 undocumented immigrants had been killed on county freeways over a five-year span.

One particularly deadly spot was on Interstate 5 at Camp Pendleton, south of the Border Patrol checkpoint. Immigrant smugglers would stop their vehicles and order everyone out, instructing them to cross the freeway toward the beach. The idea was for the immigrants to walk north and then, once they had skirted the checkpoint, cross the freeway again to the vehicle, which would be waiting on the other side.

People who had never seen a freeway were crossing up to eight lanes of traffic, often at night, with little idea how fast the tiny, distant headlights they saw would be upon them.

Parents were killed in front of their children, children in front of parents. Drivers who hit these people were left emotionally wrecked. One was haunted by the sight of an anguished face flying across the windshield. Another swore he had hit a bear.

Before Hood began drawing the sign, he and his supervisors met with Highway Patrol officers and saw photos of accident scenes. What got to him most were the deaths that involved families.

"Graphically, I wanted to show a family," said Hood, who lives in San Diego. He chose to include a pigtailed girl, rather than a boy, because "there is something about a little girl running across with her parents that we are more affected by."

Imagination at work

At first he drew detailed figures, with faces that showed "a little bit of fright." But, in the end, Hood and his supervisors decided on a silhouette.

"When you are looking through headlights, that is what you see," Hood said, "an outline of the image itself."

As he sketched, Hood tried to imagine the despair that might drive such a family across the border and onto a forbidding foreign highway.

He drew from his own experience fighting in Vietnam, where he had seen families run for their lives as villages were attacked. He remembered stories his Navajo parents had told him about ancestors who died trying to escape as U.S. soldiers marched them onto reservations.

The drawing was finished in a week. Even without faces, the characters conveyed a sense of urgency in their flight.

"It doesn't just mean they are running across the freeway," Hood said. "It means they are running from something else as well. I think it's a struggle for a lot of things, for opportunities, for freedom."

The first signs were unveiled in September 1990 at Camp Pendleton. Almost immediately, reaction came from all sides. Some Latinos felt insulted by the faceless silhouettes, which they found reminiscent of animal-crossing signs. Anti-illegal immigration advocates were angry that a state agency would be trying to protect people who had broken the law. Some people feared the signs would be misread as indicating safe places to cross.

"Either you liked it or you hated it," said Steve Saville, a veteran Caltrans spokesman. "It was an extraordinary measure to deal with an extraordinary situation."

T-shirts and surfboards

Entrepreneurs liked it, sensing the makings of a good California souvenir. It helped that the image is public property, so no one had to pay Caltrans to use it. By the mid-1990s, the running family was turning up in gift shops throughout the state.

Bemused Caltrans employees from San Diego began seeing the image emblazoned on T-shirts, stickers, even tote bags, while traveling as far north as San Francisco and Monterey. In Laguna Beach the characters had silhouetted surfboards tucked under their arms, as if sprinting toward the waves.

Today, a hipster boutique on Los Angeles' trendy Vermont Avenue stocks a couple of T-shirt versions, including one depicting the immigrants in place of the grizzly bear on the California state flag.

In San Diego, the characters are found on T-shirts and stickers sold in souvenir shops. They carry surfboards on mini-road signs that locals have posted in some beach communities.

Those who make and sell these items say they don't dwell on the road sign's history or the controversy surrounding illegal immigration. To such novelty T-shirt manufacturers as Jake Haughty, owner of San Diego-based Chingón Gear and Accessories, the sign is just a quirky slice of Southern California life.

"When I first moved here from the East Coast, I thought that was one of the funniest signs I had seen," said Haughty, whose company prints a version of the characters carrying surfboards. "I don't really know what it means, other than it's just kind of funny."

Still, the running family on a T-shirt doesn't amuse everyone. When first-generation Mexican immigrant Juan Ruiz spotted one in a Los Angeles gift shop last year, he didn't see local color or generic silhouettes. He saw himself.

Ruiz was riding in a smuggler's car late one afternoon in 1987, headed for Los Angeles after crossing the border in San Diego. Suddenly the car screeched to a halt. The smuggler ordered everyone out onto what Ruiz thought was "a very wide avenue" and barked orders to run. Ruiz ran blindly, his heart beating in his throat.

"I didn't know if I was coming or going," said Ruiz, now 48 and in the country legally. "I lived it. So, when I see these things, they make me sad."

People familiar with the hardships that drive many immigrants to leave home aren't likely to laugh at the image on a T-shirt, said Jorge Mariscal, director of the Chicano studies program at UCSD.

Yet, for others, the desperate action the image depicts is so far removed from their own reality that it is incomprehensible, and the characters become mere cartoons.

"It depends on how privileged you are," Mariscal said. "If you are pretty privileged, it is very amusing. It can only be received humorously if you don't understand the dire situation of these people running across the freeway."

Protest art

The grandchild of immigrants, Mariscal was taken aback when he saw the image on a T-shirt in a La Jolla souvenir store. But he admits he was amused when he saw a different version on a T-shirt for sale more recently, this time during a festival at Chicano Park.

"I did perk up," he said, "when I saw the one with the Pilgrims on it."

In that version, the silhouettes are drawn in Pilgrim attire, with the father wearing a tall hat, a sly poke at the Mayflower passengers' lack of permission from Massachusetts natives to move in. It's just one way in which Latinos have turned the image into protest art, embracing the running family as their own.

In El Mercado, a cavernous three-story shopping center in East Los Angeles, a stall sells car window stickers of the original silhouettes with a logo that reads "Powered By Mexican."

"It's against la migra," said sticker vendor Jesús Flores, who sells them mostly to second-generation kids in their late teens. "It's like a sign of rebellion for them, like, 'Let people say whatever they want (about us).' "

Latino artists have incorporated the figures into paintings, cartoons and other works, portraying them as Day of the Dead skeletons, even as religious figures.

Los Angeles painter Rosa M. Huerta-Williamson depicted them as a modern-day Jesus, Mary and Joseph in 1994 when she painted "La Sagrada Familia en Aztlan," which features the characters running beneath a flaming sacred heart and cross.

"What I was trying to do was indicate that this could be the sacred family and we wouldn't recognize them," said Huerta-Williamson, who sold the painting to a Mexican-American professor and his wife. "As long as these people don't have faces, white Americans don't have to think about the fact that they have feelings."

At the opposite end of the illegal immigration debate, others not so sympathetic have imbued the image with their own meaning.

A Web site called sells T-shirts, coffee mugs, hats, aprons, even men's boxers printed with a version of the running family almost true to the original, except the characters are being followed by a man with a gun.

"It's an AK-47, which is typically associated with terrorists," said John Martin, the Livermore entrepreneur who owns the site. "The man with the gun is not stalking the people; he is following them in. The point of the design is to illustrate how porous our borders are."

Seen as metaphor

That a piece of highway safety art has come to mean so many things to so many different people indicates the image has achieved icon status, said UCLA's Santa Ana, who studies how Latinos are portrayed in society and media.

"When it becomes iconic," he said, "is when people pick up and run with it."

Some people literally have picked up and run with a sign. At least one has been stolen. One woman recently called Caltrans to ask whether she could have one.

Caltrans isn't giving them away. But there are no plans to replace stolen signs or to install new ones as the originals age.

Not long after the signs went up, Caltrans placed tall fences in the center divider on I-5 at Camp Pendleton and farther south to deter freeway crossers. And beginning in late 1994, the federal government started Operation Gatekeeper, which fenced off the border south of San Diego and has pushed the brunt of illegal immigration – and its casualties – east.

Highway maintenance crews sometimes find a belt used as a handhold dangling from a divider fence. But the Border Patrol can't recall any immigrants having died crossing local freeways since the late 1990s. The road signs have become relics.

Peter Liebhold, a curator for the Smithsonian Institution's National Museum of American History, said the museum wanted to acquire a sign for its permanent exhibit on transportation, which opened a year and a half ago, but curators found the 5-by-7-foot sign too large for the allotted space.

The Smithsonian settled on a photo of the sign instead. It hangs one floor down from the original 1813 Star Spangled Banner, the flag that inspired the national anthem.

"It transcends its local history," Liebhold said. "Its importance is as a metaphor for undocumented immigration into the United States."

Hood, the Caltrans artist, a modest man by nature, didn't set out to create anything of the sort, just a road sign to help save lives.

Over the years, he has watched the transformation of his simple creation into souvenir, protest art, icon and metaphor with a mix of amazement and amusement, wishing only that some of the money being made from it today were generating funds for public safety.

Hood earns no royalties. He's lost track of his original sketches. His wife filed them away, but he's not sure where. Not that it bothers him. His road sign, or at least some version of it, isn't hard to find.

"That was my baby," he said. "It has its own life now."

Arizona law and the feds

Wednesday’s argument before the Supreme Court failed to produce even one good reason why Arizona’s law on illegal immigration is illegal or unconstitutional.

The main aspect of the law is that it requires police to check on the immigration status of people they stop for other reasons. And if someone turns out to be undocumented or "illegal," the feds are notified.

Whether this is feasible depends on how it’s done. If Arizona handles things like Oregon, where you have to prove your residency status when getting or renewing a driver’s license, it should be no problem. Showing the license answers the question, and that’s all there is to it. No racial profiling is involved.

The court made clear that it wanted to consider the federal government’s challenge to the Arizona law only in relation to state versus federal power: Does the state interfere with the national government in some way?

States enforce other federal rules or laws. States enforce provisions of the Clean Water Act, for example, or the regulations of HIPAA. Also, the federal Justice Department wants states to enforce the federal prohibition against marijuana. In fact, it looks askance at states like California and Oregon that try to go their own way in regard to pot.

So what is so wrong with a state helping the government enforce its immigration laws?

Before the court Wednesday, the government maintained that the Arizona law could sour U.S. relations with Mexico. But enforcement of U.S. laws can’t be made contingent on approval by another country, can it?

The news reports on this case suggest that the outcome, expected in June, may have an influence on the national political campaigns. But Latinos, the group likely to be most affected by enforcement, have no reason to fear the outcome if the Arizona law is upheld.

If former immigrants have gone through the steps the law lays out, they have no reason to champion the cause of those who have not. (hh)

Mark your calendar for Saturday, May 12

OFIR members and concerned citizens, you're invited to bring a friend and join us Saturday, May 12 at 2:00 pm for a behind the scenes look at the Arizona - Mexico border.  OFIR President, Cynthia Kendoll traveled with the Center for Immigration Studies (CIS) and a small group of concerned citizens from around the country on a week long, intensive study of the situation on our southern border in restricted areas not safely accessible to citizens.  Cynthia will be presenting a photographic tour of what she witnessed on the trip.  Move past the propaganda and see what is really happening.  During the trip, specialists in several governmental departments shared how they are impacted every day by illegal immigration.  Mark your calendar and plan to attend.  

Saturday, May 12, 2012 - 2 pm

In Salem, at the Best Western Mill Creek Inn,

3125 Ryan Dr SE, just west of I-5 Exit 253, across from Costco.


Deadline for Scholarship applications draws near

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OFIR is offering two scholarships ($1,000 and $750) for college bound seniors and currently enrolled college undergraduate students.  The deadline for applications to be received by OFIR is April 15th.  Please tell the college bound students you know about this opportunity.

Oregon Attorney General on Wrong Side

Last year Eric Holder, the Attorney General of the U.S., filed a lawsuit against the state of Arizona for their passage of SB 1070, the tough but fair, anti-illegal alien bill. A federal appeals court ruled against Arizona. However Arizona filed an appeal with the U.S. Supreme Court and fortunately the Court has agreed to hear their appeal of the lower court ruling. It will be heard on April 25.

A number of government jurisdictions across the U.S. have filed amicus briefs, some supporting Arizona and some in opposition. Unbelievable but true: four Oregon jurisdictions have joined with the pro-illegal alien side in opposition to Arizona’s attempts to protect its citizens against the terrible impact of illegal immigration. These Oregon jurisdictions are: City of Portland, County of Multnomah, City of Beaverton, and the City of Tualatin.

Equally shocking is the action of the Attorney General of Oregon, John R. Kroger, who joined a group of attorneys for Amici Curiae in support of the lawsuit against Arizona.

Oregon is faced with monumental problems, many of which are caused by the flood of illegal aliens into the state. Nonetheless Kroger decided that he knows better than Arizona lawmakers about a law that they passed. The Federation for American Immigration Reform, (FAIR), estimates illegal aliens cost Oregon taxpayers close to $705 million a year. Illegal aliens cost the Oregon Department of Justice $110 million dollars a year. Shouldn’t Kroger be more concerned about that?

The phone number for John Kroger is: (503) 378-4400.

His email is:

With all of the problems facing Oregon, what in the world would compel Beaverton, Tualatin, Portland and Multnomah County to file a friend of the court brief against another state? Don’t they have enough problems of their own? If you live in one of these jurisdictions, you might call the local officials and ask them what in the world are they doing? What business is it of theirs to fight against a law passed by the Arizona Legislature to protect their citizens facing constant danger from illegal immigration while the federal government fails to help?

Mayor of Beaverton, Dennis Doyle.; 503-526-2497; Fax: (503) 526-2479  

Beaverton City Council. or call 503-526-2222.

Mayor of Tualatin, Lou Ogden.

City Council of Tualatin

Administration  Phone: 503-692-2000; Fax: 503-692-5421

Mayor of Portland, Sam Adams.; 503- 823-4120.

City Commissioners and their contact information listed at:

Multnomah County Commissioners:  All five are listed with email, phone, and fax numbers at:

Front page news - check out the Wednesday March 14th, Statesman newspaper

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If you haven't seen today's Statesman newspaper, check out the front page...above the fold.

Capi Lynn did a great job relaying my tour of the border story for Statesman readers.

Check it out at:|topnews|text|Home

Absurd! President Obama's proposed budget cuts to Customs and Border Enforcement

Having just returned from a week long, intensive study of the Arizona/Mexico border I am appalled at the prospect of a reduced budget for our border protection.  Men and women of the border patrol and a variety of law enforcement agencies put their lives on the line every day to protect us.  It is our government's responsibility to make certain they have everything they need to do the job.  Drug cartels and human smugglers are very well funded and are just waiting for a reduction in our security to make their move.

The role of Government is to protect. Beyond securing our borders and protecting us from our enemies, the role of the Federal Government should be very small.

And yet, on Wednesday, the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Homeland Security held a hearing on President Obama’s proposed budget cuts to Customs and Border Protection (CBP), included in the Department of Homeland Security’s (DHS) budget proposal for Fiscal year 2013.

  • $68.2 million decrease in funding for air and marine operations and procurements
  • $7.1 million reduction in air and marine staff
  • $6 million decrease in border security inspections and trade facilitation between points of entry
  • $6.7 million decrease in automation technology modernization
  • $72.9 million decrease in border security fencing, infrastructure, and technology

Both Republicans and Democrats on the Subcommittee raised concerns that these proposed reductions could weaken CBP programs and put border security in jeopardy.

Read more at:

Photos give a closer look at the troubling issues on our southern border

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OFIR President Cynthia Kendoll toured the Arizona - Mexico border.  Visit the OFIR photo gallery to get a better idea of the problems faced on our southern border:

Could the US government be monitoring your political activities?

A recent article released by FAIR suggests that the O'bama administration may be more interested in your opinions than you think.  Apparently, according to testimony by committee members, the negative reaction to DHS’s “big brother” tactics has been overwhelmingly bipartisan.

On Feb. 16, the House Subcommittee on Counter-terrorism and Intelligence held a hearing on DHS’s monitoring of social networking and the media. (See Subcommittee Website, Feb. 16, 2012) Chairman of the Subcommittee, Patrick Meehan (R-PA), said DHS’ collection of intelligence on media reports adversely reflecting the government crosses the line and pointed out the “chilling effect” such monitoring could have on freedom of speech. (Rep. Meehan Opening Statement, Feb. 16, 2012) Ranking Member Jackie Speier (D-CA) described DHS’ ability to “build files on bloggers” as “outrageous” and a “violation of the Privacy Act.” She also said, “This…should not be a political operation and capturing public reactions to major government proposals is not something [the government] should be doing.” (Bloomberg Government Transcript, Feb. 16, 2012).


Read more in the National News section of the OFIR website at:



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