Part 2: Immigration Déjà Vu: The Rise of the Minuteman Project & Grassroots Activism in California

​This is Part 2 of the "Immigration Déjà Vu" Series looking at the events that transpired following the November 2004 election. Here is the link to Part 1.

Following the 2004 election results, Californian activists joined several groups with the California Coalition for Immigration Reform (CCIR), The Minuteman Project and its myriad of independent and affiliated splinter groups, and Save Our State (SOS) being the largest and most active organizations.

Whereas the Minuteman Project focused its energies on border enforcement and would become a huge international sensation in 2005, groups like the California Coalition for Immigration Reform (CCIR) and Save Our State (SOS) ratcheted up their grassroots activism in the interior.


CCIR, led by the now deceased Barb Coe, was revered in the movement – as they were instrumentally involved in the submission and passage of Proposition 187, also referred to as the Save Our State intiaitive. My group, which derived its name from measure, staked out new ground in a very aggressive form of street-level activism at day labor centers and in communities with large alien populations like Baldwin Park and Maywood.

I was 27 when I founded the group and itching to advance a much more combative style. Frankly, I detested the "call and fax your congressman" routine at the time and in my youthful naivete minimized the significance of that brand of activism. 

This “triumvirate” would wage a guerrilla campaign unlike any the open borders lobby had ever experienced. The entire national narrative on illegal immigration was changing and it was due to the work of this cadre of tireless activists out in California.

In the trenches, many of us were sacrificing greatly for the cause. Some of us had our vehicles vandalized. Many of us were spit on and physically assaulted by the leftists, including yours truly. Some of us were arrested, including yours truly, on trumped up charges by police departments seeking to discourage Save Our State and its band of hardcore activists from returning and causing trouble.

Some of the most notable and violent episodes transpired in Baldwin Park and Garden Grove.​

We were undeterred with activists from all of these organizations hitting the streets nearly every weekend all over Southern California. Such a sustained proactive effort had never been accomplished before.

And with this unrelenting activism and our nascent understanding of the internet, we all noticed that people from all over the country were starting to tune into the happenings in California. Small groups throughout the country began to pop up.​

It was clear that we were no longer on an island unto ourselves.​

The Birth of the Illegal Immigration Relief Act (IIRA)​

During the middle to latter part of 2005, I began to sense that something more was needed to ignite the immigration issue and make it become more of a national issue. We had reached maximum return on investment with respect to our members of Congress. 

We needed to "transfer the pain" to other members of Congress and get them to feel the heat.

It was then that I began formulating the idea of authoring a local initiative at the city level with the hopes of getting it to spread to other regions of the country. I likened it to how a Subway or McDonald's use the franchise system to grow their brand and profits.

I wanted to provide a model template for other jurisdictions to copy.

California, like many states, allows the public to bypass the state legislature and local governments using the initiative process. Basically, if proponents of a measure seek to pass a law, they must get a certain number of signatures depending on the jurisdiction to qualify it for the ballot.

Much like our opponents on the left go judge shopping, I went shopping for a place to put a local initiative on the ballot.

In late 2005, I authored the Illegal Immigration Relief Act (IIRA) in the City of San Bernardino and submitted it to the City Clerk to begin signature collection.

In California, most cities are “general law” cities where much of what they can do and how they can do it is determined via state codes. San Bernardino and a few other cities are “charter law” cities, which gives them the ability to craft unique laws and codes.

San Bernardino’s initiative process revolved around the number of votes that were cast in the preceding mayoral election. The city had off-year elections meaning that the elections were held in odd years instead of even years when state and federal elections were conducted. Because of this and other specific local factors, turnout during mayoral elections was much lower than the even year election cycle.

Additionally, the previous mayoral election occurred in 2001 when the incumbent ran unopposed and something like a little more than 7,000 votes were cast. Consequently, I only had to get a little more than 2,200 signatures in a city with more than 200,000 people to qualify my initiative.

How incredible is that!​

During the middle of 2006, I had successfully gathered the requisite number of signatures and qualified the measure for the ballot. It would never be voted on due to a lawsuit and decision by a judge that bordered on corruption – which is a story for another day. However, my primary goal of creating a template for other jurisdictions across the country to follow came to fruition.

Once the measure had initially qualified for the ballot, I asked our network of activists to use their keyboard warrior skills and contact at least one city council per day asking them to copy our initiative.

Save Our State activists emailed hundreds of city councils and government officials across the country. These efforts and the national media attention the IIRA garnered resulted in at least 40 jurisdictions copying the measure in some form or fashion. Most notably in Escondido (CA), Hazleton (PA), and Farmers Branch (TX).

The IIRA spread like wildfire during the summer of 2006. At this point, illegal immigration controversies were springing up all over the nation and congressional leaders responded by conducting listening sessions across the country. Immigration hardliners in the House of Representatives and a bipartisan group of Republicans and Democrats in the Senate favoring amnesty also conducted meetings.

The summer would come and go – without amnesty gaining the support to get passed in Congress. With 2007 being the only window of opportunity to pass amnesty before the 2008 presidential cycle begun, the Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR) put together their 2nd Annual “Hold Their Feet to the Fire” campaign bringing in talk radio show hosts to broadcast from Washington and thousands of citizens to meet and lobby members of Congress about the need to close our borders and crack down on illegal immigration.

Thankfully, the year would come and go without the passage of amnesty closing the books on amnesty until 2009 at the earliest.

Fortunately for us, President Barack Obama betrayed his promises made to Hispanic voters during the 2008 campaign and failed to push through any amnesty plans despite the fact that the Democrat Party controlled both the House and Senate with healthy majorities.

He would then make similar promises while running for re-election in 2012. Thankfully, he once again failed to honor his word.

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Joseph Turner

Joseph Turner is the founder and executive director for American Children First. He is a nationalist hardliner on illegal immigration issues and considered one of the foremost visionary and strategic thinkers in the movement. Previously, he founded the California-based anti-illegal immigration group Save Our State in 2004. He also authored the Illegal Immigration Relief Act (IIRA) in 2005 which served as the model blueprint for dozens of other cities, most notably Hazleton (PA) and Farmers Branch (TX). The IIRA is believed to have represented the first ever attempt to use the local initiative process to combat illegal immigration in the United States.

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Joseph Turner
Founder, American Children First

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