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Immigration protest erupts in fisticuffs

JERRY DAVICH | March 27, 2006

Its absolutely the same story every time. The illegals protesting immigration policy reform of any kind start a fight with counter-protesters and the cops just let them attack. They especially seem to like soda bottles.

MUNSTER I Blaring car horns, racist slurs and angry fisticuffs punctuated a volatile encounter of protesters and counter-protesters Saturday morning outside Bank Calumet.

"God bless America! Stay out of our business!" yelled members of the locally based Indiana Federation for Immigration Reform and Enforcement.

"Go home (expletive) Nazi racists!" yelled members of an opposing group of circling counterprotesters.

The federation, a public interest organization advocating what it calls immigration policies with an impact, demonstrated against bank loans for undocumented aliens, echoing six similar previous local protests.

Several members of the Chicago Minuteman Project joined the federation, hoisting protest signs to passing motorists and exchanging verbal jabs with visibly angry counterprotesters.

"We're not racists, we're LEGAL Americans," Minuteman members yelled under American flags whipping in a fierce wind. "Those people are Communists."

The counterprotesters -- some from the Progressive Labor Party of Chicago, others from Purdue University Calumet or there on their own -- chanted in bilingual defiance: "¡Obreros unidos jamas seran vencidos!" or, "Workers united will never be defeated!"

Susana Findley, a Gary native whose parents were born in Mexico, said illegal immigrant workers arrived here for the same reason federation members' ancestors arrived: To find work and a better life.

"But those racist immigrants forget about that," said Findley, nodding toward the federation's camp.

Several counterprotesters arrived earlier than the scheduled 10 a.m. federation protest, setting up shop at the corner of Calumet Avenue and Ridge Road.

When 63-year-old Chicago Minuteman member Rick Biesada arrived and pulled out his protest sign, he claimed that two counterprotesters yanked it from him. When he yanked it back, the men assaulted him, knocking him to the ground, he said.

The Lindenhurst, Ill., resident was treated by paramedics at the scene for a gash over his eye and dizziness, spending a few minutes inside an ambulance before returning to the protest.

"I wished he fell to the ground harder," Findley said.

Munster police Sgt. Nick Hudak, one of several officers showing up to stand between the opposing groups, said no arrests were made and no other injuries occurred.

Protesters on both sides said the escalating debate over U.S. House Bill 4437, the so-called Border Security bill, may have inflamed the controversy of offering bank loans to illegal aliens.

The bill, which would strengthen enforcement of existing immigration laws and enhance border security, has already passed the House and could be voted on by the Senate as early as this week.

Federation co-founder and Valparaiso resident Cheree Calabro, while passing out fliers to motorists, said similar demonstrations at Bank Calumet had no such problems with counterprotesters.

"I think they're feeling more emboldened with all the national protests (supporting illegal immigration)," said Calabro, whose group is the Indiana chapter of the national Minuteman Project.




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