Group of about 25 protest outside theater
By Karen Brainard
Ramona TEA'd drew its largest crowd ever for its 50th public forum when Sheriff Joe Arpaio from Arizona's Maricopa County came to speak on Saturday.
Darrell Beck, Ramona Tea'd member, said about 460 people came to hear Arpaio, known as "America's toughest sheriff." A couple hundred people had to be turned away, he said.
The 82-year-old sheriff, who has become a controversial figure for his stance on crime and illegal immigration, has been elected six times for four-year terms and said he is planning to run again in 2016.
A group of about 25 protesters also showed up outside Ramona Mainstage, where the forum was held. Deputies from the San Diego County Sheriff's Department parked their vehicles in the street and stood nearby in case any problems occurred.
"Racists, bigots, go away," a female protester shouted into a megaphone. She held a sign that said "Workers of Unite and Fight, International Socialist Organization." Another protester held a sign that said "Deport racists, not children."
Among locations the protesters came from were Escondido, San Diego and "America."
On the other side of the sidewalk, residents from Ramona, Poway, Rancho Bernardo, Julian, Fallbrook, Tierrasanta, Carlsbad and other local towns stood in a line that stretched down the street
One deputy said there were a couple of scuffles with the protesters but when law enforcement intervened, the protesters left.
At 8:15 a.m. Paul Bernd of Ramona was one of the first to arrive for the forum, which opened doors at 11. He was able to secure a second row seat while some who arrived later were lucky to find standing room.
Arpaio drew loud applause from the packed room when he entered, and peppered his talk with humorous lines.
Illegal immigration was a topic foremost on many people's minds with the recent influx of 57,000 Central Americans, most of them children, coming across the U.S.-Mexico border. Arpaio said someone at the White House should have known about the surge in illegal immigrants.
"Some could be carrying bombs. Some could be terrorists," he said.
When he asked if anyone was from Murrieta, a group of about 25 raised their hands and drew cheers. Arpaio thanked them for standing up against the federal government's plan to transfer some of the undocumented immigrants to Murrieta, and for reviving the illegal immigration issue.
"You are the heroes of our country right now because you brought the problem back into the fold," he said.
The sheriff said President Obama invited three Central American presidents to the White House to talk about the influx of their citizens, but he questioned why Obama did not invite Mexico's president and why Mexico doesn't stop the illegals from crossing the border into the U.S.
"Mexico is the biggest problem," he said. "No one talks about Mexico."
Arpaio said the U.S. should send border patrol or military to work with the Mexican Army, as he did.
"Why can't we work operational and work on the other side and stop the drugs before they come across...very simple," he said to applause.
Arpaio talked about the success of his tent city, which he launched in 1993 for convicted inmates. The compound has 2,000 convicted men and women. He puts U.S. flags in jail cells and, if anyone messes with the flag, they go on bread and water.
"Pretty good. We save some money," he quipped.
Two months ago, he said he took meat out of the meals and the inmates are now vegetarians.
Arpaio also addressed his investigation into what he said was a fake, forged document of Obama's birth certificate, and said he asked for a real copy of the birth certificate, which he never received.
"You've got to do what's right," he said. "I do have a heart, believe it or not. I'm only as good as the people that support me."
On behalf of Ramona TEA'd, Jim Fontana presented Arpaio with a copy of the book "Images of America - Ramona" by Richard Carrico.