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2/19 Vista, CA: Residents believe anti-immigrant fliers were tossed from plane
Released 21 February 2007  By TERI FIGUEROA - North County Times (San Diego, CA)

Vista residents believe anti-illegal immigration fliers were tossed from plane

February 19, 2007

By: TERI FIGUEROA - North County Times (San Diego, CA)

VISTA -- Residents of a central Vista neighborhood said they watched dozens of fliers with anti-illegal immigration messages fall from the sky like "snowfall" Thursday evening. Some said they believe the papers may have been chucked out of the airplane they also saw pass overhead at the same time.

"It was the weirdest thing," Vista resident Jean Smith said. "Two or three, then five or six, then as far as I can see, these papers are floating into the neighborhood."
There are strict federal regulations about dropping things from airplanes, and the FAA said that if fliers were dropped, it was done illegally, said Jerry Pendzick, the manager of the Federal Aviation Administration's Flight and Standards District Office in San Diego.

"We never authorize people dropping leaflets over a municipality," Pendzick said Friday. "If this happened, then we have an issue here."

If the fliers did come from a plane, Pendzick said, it will be "tough to track," because none of the witnesses were able to provide the plane's identification number, which is much like a license plate number on a car.

On top of that, contrary to popular belief, there may not be a record of what planes were in the air Friday. According to Pendzick and other local airport officials, it is legal and common for planes to fly out of small airfields or private runways without ever filing flight plans or even telling anyone that they are in the air.

Smith was one of a handful of people who said they saw the papers flutter down from the sky about 6:30 p.m. Thursday. Down the street from the Smith home Thursday night, three boys playing in a yard kicked the ball high above their heads. When they looked up, they saw more than the ball come down.

"All of the sudden, papers were falling from the sky," 16-year-old Eddie Gomez said when shown the flier and asked if he'd seen any of them in his neighborhood.

"It looked like snow," said his friend, 11-year-old Luis Hernandez.

The flier offers statistics about illegal immigration, mostly as it relates to Los Angeles County. The bottom of the flier directs readers to check out the Web sites of five anti-illegal immigration groups.

On Monday, three of the five groups did not immediately respond to a call for comment. Leaders of the other two groups said they had not heard of any supporters dropping fliers from a plane.

"If it's illegal, I don't condone that, but I applaud them on their enthusiasm for getting the word out," said Jason Mrochek, co-founder and national director of the FIRE Coalition. "Hopefully, somebody didn't break a law to do this. Next time, hopefully they will choose a more legal means of doing it."

Barbara Coe of the California Coalition for Immigration Reform said the information on the flier is "widely distributed by multiple organizations."

"I have no problem being quoted on that flier," Coe said, adding, "I don't know who dropped it, or if anybody dropped it."

Longtime immigrant rights activist Claudia Smith said Monday that she hadn't heard any reports of fliers dropped from airplanes, but said she believes some anti-illegal immigration activists have "become much bolder and aggressive."

Vista was one of the early battlegrounds in the recent North County debate over illegal immigration.

Last summer, the Vista City Council passed an ordinance regulating the hiring of day laborers off the street, an action that drew demonstrations from activists on both sides of the debate. The city was also the site of deadly deputy-involved shootings of three Latino men over a five-day span in the summer of 2005.

On Friday, sheriff's officials in Vista said they received no reports of fliers dumped from a passing plane. A check of the computer logs also revealed no such reports.

Officials at local airports said they, too, received no reports of anyone dropping fliers from a plane.

The FAA office also received no reports of such activity, Pendzick said. He added that, in his 13 years with the local office, he has never encountered a complaint of someone dumping fliers from a plane. He said one of the witnesses must send a signed, sworn statement as to what they saw before his agency opens a formal investigation.

It is also unclear whether the wind played a role in distributing the fliers. Wind-condition data recorded for Vista was unavailable from the National Weather Service on Monday afternoon; the nearest readings immediately available were taken at Lindbergh Field near downtown San Diego. Records show the peak wind at Lindbergh that day was 16 mph at 1:30 p.m., and forecaster Stan Wasowski noted that winds generally die down in the evening.

A walk around the affected neighborhood -- which sits on a hilltop immediately east of the Lowe's store on Vista Village Drive, just north of Highway 78 -- revealed many of the red-inked fliers lying on the ground, stuck in ditches or fluttering from inside flower beds and bushes.

Two laborers working in the area said they found the fliers littering the ground and the tops of bushes when they arrived at work Friday.

And another man, who did not give his name, showed a reporter the flier that had landed in the middle of his large backyard, which is surrounded by at least a 6-foot high fence.

"Whether I agree or disagree with the political sentiment of the flier, I'm more concerned a plane can spew this all over the neighborhood," witness Jean Smith said. "If you get mad enough, what are you going to toss out the window next?"

-- Contact staff writer Teri Figueroa at (760) 631-6624 or tfigueroa@nctimes.com.


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