Released 06 February 2007  By Jennifer Delson - Los Angeles Times
Costa Mesa's illegal-immigration crackdown highlights the fears of many
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
Los Angeles Times: 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
"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
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
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
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