Harald Martin doesn't seem to have a lot of friends these days. On Aug. 31, he resigned his seat on the Anaheim Union High School District Board of Trustees rather than force the district to fight an expensive recall effort against him. Among Latino civil-rights activists in Anaheim and elsewhere, he's seen as a kind of boogeyman: a former cop turned educator whose sole, self-proclaimed mission is to rid his city of illegal immigrants.
But here at the Sept. 29 meeting of the California Coalition for Immigration Reform (CCIR) meeting at the Woman's Club in Garden Grove, he's a hero.
Martin, a stout, bearded, bespectacled Austrian immigrant, stands behind a podium, preaching the anti-illegal rhetoric to a crowd of nearly 30 mostly gray and balding heads. An elderly couple sitting toward the back of the room appears intrigued. The wife looks up periodically from her knitting while her husband grunts in support.
They love Martin's idea of rounding up illegal immigrants and putting them in tent cities, an idea he admits was not his own. According to Martin, the plan may sound like a pipe dream, but it will soon become reality, thanks to House Resolution 3531, the bill Martin calls "everything we've ever tried for."
The legislation, recently introduced by a Florida congresswoman, calls for making illegal immigration into the United States a felony resulting in prison time for its offenders, which would lead to prison overcrowding and increased taxpayer burden.
Martin estimates that putting illegal immigrants in tents rather than jail cells would cut prison costs by up to 80 percent.
The audience erupts with applause.
The crowd outside is another story. Protesters circle the building to express their antipathy for both the notoriously anti-immigrant CCIR and their guest speaker. Holding signs and chanting, "No borders! No nations! No deportations!" in unison, the small group prompts CCIR's security to call the police, who soon arrive to observe the scene and keep the peace.
"They are anarchists," Aaron, a CCIR member working security, says of the protesters. (He declines to give his last name for fear of receiving death threats, he says.) "Anarchists and communists. They have no respect for this country."
Another member speculates that the protesters are from Los Amigos, an Anaheim-based Latino-activist group led by Amin David, a longtime foe of Martin.
The protesters would not confirm what group they represent but David told the Weekly he had nothing to do with the event.
"I was not there," David says. "I certainly would not take the time to dignify [Martin] with my presence."
Martin remains calm despite the commotion, proclaiming from behind his podium that he and David are "old friends" from his days as an Anaheim police officer. Martin was well-liked by the Mexicans in the city, he says—that is, until he started speaking publicly about deporting Mexicans, after an illegal immigrant shot and nearly killed fellow officer Tim Garcia.
The Weekly reported in 2001 on a Martin rant where he called his own chief a coward and traitor. The article led David to write a two-page letter to the Anaheim chief of police requesting that Martin be removed from the force. The letter and article eventually led to Martin's retirement.
"[David and Los Amigos] want to keep the people down," Martin said. "[They] want them to be needy because they want to be the jefes. Because that is what they really want: power."
During his time on the Anaheim P.D., Martin also worked on the Anaheim school board of trustees, serving from 1994 to 2002. Martin's most prominent moment came in 1999, when he drafted a resolution for the district to sue Mexico for $50 million for the cost of educating the children of illegal immigrants from that country.
He lost in his next two runs for the board, in 2002 and in 2006, but he found his way back when the death of a member resulted in Martin's appointment to the vacant seat on July 19. This prompted a group of residents to demand his removal (see "The Martin Chronicles," Aug. 17).
Following the uproar, Martin agreed to step down in order to "save our taxpayer dollars"; the open seat has now forced another election.
The question on everyone's mind at the CCIR meeting that night is whether Martin will run again for the seat. Martin's answer is no.
"There are two paths I can take," he says. "One, I can go back to working 20 to 30 hours a week doing that, or two, I can come in here and be another D.A. King—and I think that's what I'm going to do."
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Martin is referring to Donald Arthur King, the anti-illegal-immigration activist who was a leading proponent of the Georgia Security & Immigration Compliance Act. The law, which took effect on April 17, requires that state's agencies to verify the legal status of all applicants for taxpayer benefits and prohibits the hiring of illegal immigrants by state contractors.
Martin admits that cops and sheriff's deputies may have a tough task ahead of them, rounding up tens of thousands of illegal immigrants until they can be deported. But he offers a remedy to that problem: citizen volunteers.
"One thing we will try to do is bring some of these young bucks in here," he says of making CCIR's movement stronger. "Get some of them on our side with our signs, and then the intimidation factor will be so great that we will be able to protect each other and help other folks recognize the dangers in this country. . . . If we don't do anything, pretty soon, your child will probably have to speak Spanish, and none of us want that."