Retired utility worker Charles Warren worries the his quality of life is slipping and says that illegal immigrants are to blame. The 55-year-old retiree complains about day laborers waiting for work outside the nearby Home Depot, saying they give his neighborhood “a Third World look.” “Ten or 15 years ago, the neighborhood wasn’t like this,” Warren said. “The states are overpopulated, there is oversprawl and immigration is contributing to this.” After seeing a television commercial that blamed many of California’s woes on illegal immigrants, Warren immediately donated $50 to the sponsoring group – Californians for Population Stabilization. They say the rhetoric used by those border restrictionists, such as the Minutemen Civil Defense Corps and CAPS, teeters on alarmism rather than focusing on the country’s broken border system. And, they fear, it is dangerously fanning the flames of hate. “We are in the midst of an anti-immigrant wave that periodically affects California, whether it be the 1880s with the anti-Chinese immigrant stance, the 1950s with Operation Wetback or in the 1970s in California when we used to see headlines with thousands of aliens crossing into California all the time,” said Harry Pachon, president of the Tomas Rivera Policy Institute, a think tank that focuses on Latino issues. One group, the Arizona-based Minutemen Civil Defense Corps, a civilian volunteer group patrolling the border, says it has collected $600,000 for a proposed border fence. The American Border Patrol, another civilian group that turns immigrants crossing the U.S.-Mexican border over to authorities and is considered a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center, says donations are up 25 percent. And in San Diego, a newly formed Minutemen group went from just two members late last year to 200 today. “People are joining us so fast because they are frustrated with our government,” said Jeff Schwilk, the groups’ founder. “They see all the wrangling, all the political posturing, and I think people are fed up with the inaction of their government.” Members are encouraged to “observe” corners where day laborers hang out and report suspected illegal immigrants. They trade information on Web sites, including those that post photos of people employing illegal immigrants. One Web site run by the national version of the San Diego chapter’s MCDC, as the Minutemen Civil Defense Corps is called, links to another that sells caps and mugs in green, white and red – the colors of the Mexican flag – with a silhouette of a falling man in a sombrero that reads “No Mas Illegals.” “We know the anti-immigration movement is exploding, that there are certainly more and more organizations and chapters of organizations of chapters being developed all the time,” said Heidi Beirich, deputy director for the Southern Poverty Law Center’s Intelligence Project, which tracks hate and anti-immigrant groups. The danger is when they focus attention on one ethnic group like Mexicans, who make up about half of all illegal immigrants in the United States, she said. “What a lot of these organizations do is … defaming a group of people, like they bring disease, they are terrorists, they are criminals, they are trashing the environment. Anytime you defame a group of people incessantly, you make that group ripe for discrimination,” Beirich said. But supporters of these groups say they feel especially compelled to join after seeing the level of support among immigrant sympathizers. Bob Byrd, a 68-year-old real estate broker who recently joined California Coalition for Immigration Reform, a Huntington Beach-based group, said he was simply “repulsed” watching immigrants and their supporters carrying signs in Spanish through downtown streets. The images fueled his own anger over a recent family experience at Los Angeles County-USC Medical Center. Sitting for hours in the emergency room, waiting for his ill son to be seen by a doctor, all the while surrounded by patients who spoke almost exclusively Spanish. “Our country is in jeopardy and there is something that should be done about this. We have to pay for other people’s welfare who shouldn’t be here in the first place,” he said. “I am not prejudiced. I want everyone to have equal rights, but I see more and more our language is being changed.” Listed as a hate group by Southern Poverty Law Center, CCIR counts 26,000 members who support their promise to fight “the illegal alien invasion.” Diana Hull, president of Californians for Population Stabilization, believes that the high-octane debate reflects the dire situation. In the low-budget CPS commercial that motivated union member and Sacramento Democrat Warren to join, swarms of pro-immigrant protestors wave the Mexican flag. A voice-over comes on: “The last thing California needs is more traffic, crowded schools, bankrupt hospitals. The last thing California needs is more immigration. The other side has had its say. Isn’t it time you had yours?” The commercial targeted the thousands of residents whom Hull believes were incensed by the immigrant protests, which she says is further evidence of plans for a reconquista or reconquering of California by Latinos seeking land lost during the Mexican-American war. As the images of sign-waving protesters fade, viewers are directed to the CAPS Web site, where dozens of facts on illegal immigration are listed. But experts say that while some of the facts are correct, others are only partially true, manipulated or exaggerated. For instance, the Web page states that there are 20 million illegal immigrants in the country. Most experts agree there are 10 million to 12 million illegals. The site goes on to state that illegal immigration costs California taxpayers $10.5 billion a year for education, health care and incarceration – a figure that experts contend is closer to $3 to $6 billion nationally. “This strikes me that they are trying to engender fear rather than a rational debate,” said Louis DeSipio, associate professor of political science and Latino studies at the UC Irvine. “They are manipulating available data to make as strong an argument as they can, but it’s not substantively correct.” Hull contends her group is a population-control group such as Numbers USA, not anti-immigrant. Research-oriented groups such as hers have provided the backbone for one side of the polarizing debate. Hull advocates birth control to foreign nations and against granting citizenship to immigrants’ children born in the United States. The former Sierra Club member, who failed a push for the national organization to take a hard-line stance against immigration, has used CAPS to appeal to environmentalists. “People are timid about taking a stand on a contentious issue, but the \ gave them the courage to speak what they believe,” she said. Moreover, she and other groups pushing for tighter borders say the real race-baiters are immigrant advocacy groups like National Council of La Raza, which she says solely serves one ethnic group. “There’s this whole perception being perpetuated about the Minutemen and others, that they are some low-grade group. They are incorrectly and maliciously portrayed. It’s not true. One of our board members is a Minuteman and he is a Ph.D., a professor. It’s a smear campaign.” But, the fever-pitch debate has taken such a turn that even in the halls of Congress, accusations of discrimination have spilled over into legislation. Last month Rep. Ruben Hinojosa, D-Texas, accused other members of Congress of fanning the flames of “anti-immigrant sentiment” by supporting legislation that makes English the official language. The intense focus on Latino immigrants, particularly Mexicans, has some worried about fear and anger being stoked in California, home to 2.1 million illegal immigrants. Critics warn the lines can become blurred as groups use mean-spirited rhetoric and images of dark-skinned immigrants or bedraggled border crossers to get across their point. “It’s a simple message that immigrants equal problems but the reality is that problems are caused by several factors, not just immigrants,” Pachon said. [email protected] (818) 713-3741160Want local news?Sign up for the Localist and stay informed Something went wrong. Please try again.subscribeCongratulations! You’re all set! AD Quality Auto 360p 720p 1080p Top articles1/5READ MOREWhy these photogenic dumplings are popping up in Los AngelesAnd he’s not the only one. Since the Santa Barbara-based group aired the commercials, it has collected thousands of membership applications. Other anti-immigrant groups have watched their rolls and coffers swell, from California to New York. Most of the organizations are small affairs, started by one or two people – such as California Coalition for Immigration Reform or Save Our State. Other groups provide statistical data and research-oriented services such as CPS or Numbers USA, both centering on population control. But anti-illegal-immigrant groups say growing interest is a wider backlash against pro-immigrant street protests that swept the country last spring, and frustration with federal officials whose immigration-reform bill has stalled. Critics warn that the upsurge in activity – also being replicated among pro-immigrant groups – is evidence of a growing anti-immigrant sentiment sweeping the United States.