Minutemen can join Calif. Adopt-A-Highway program, director says
By Steve Wiegand
The Sacramento Bee, March 23, 2009
Sacramento — There is no legal way to ban the Minutemen, a controversial group that opposes illegal immigrants, from participating in California's Adopt-A-Highway program without shutting it down entirely, the state's Department of Transportation director, Will Kempton, said Monday.
'The bottom line is there is no way to deny these folks regardless of how we feel about them,' Kempton said in a meeting with a dozen Latino legislators and representatives of minority organizations. 'We will lose in court if we try to eliminate these folks.'
Latino lawmakers are angry that Caltrans issued a litter pickup permit to the San Diego Minutemen for a stretch of Interstate 5 that straddles a major immigration checkpoint south of San Clemente.
The group contends it is a patriotic organization that seeks to ensure U.S. immigration and border security laws are enforced. But critics contend Minutemen are racist vigilantes who use intimidation and harassment against immigrant rights activists.
'If they were people of color, they would be labeled a gang,' said California Assemblywoman Lori Saldana, a San Diego Democrat. Saldana said she has been repeatedly harassed by group members at public events in her district.
In a telephone interview, Minutemen president Jeff Schwilk responded that 'we wouldn't waste five minutes on Lori Saldana except to respond to her wild charges that lack one bit of truth.'
The Adopt-A-Highway program, in which volunteers collect roadside trash and get an acknowledgment road sign in return, stopped issuing new permits last June. Caltrans officials said the moratorium was necessary while they redrafted rules for the program.
Meanwhile, the Minutemen are suing several state officials and legislators for allegedly conspiring to deny the group's free speech rights by revoking its permit and taking down the sign. A federal judge ordered the permit and sign restored until the case is decided.
Kempton said Monday that the moratorium has resulted in about 1,200 miles of roadside not being cleaned by volunteers.
Democratic Assemblyman Tony Mendoza suggested that groups participating in the program be required to submit a list of officers, group bylaws and other information.
Kempton said that might result in 'informal' groups not being able to participate, but agreed to meet again next week with some of the 26-member caucus to try to address its concerns.
Minutemen fight puts highway cleanup on hold
The Associated Press, March 23, 2009