Latino Immigration Reformers
by Michael E. Telzrow
March 20, 2006

Ignoring conventional wisdom, Americans of Hispanic descent are at the forefront in the battle against illegal immigration.
Michael E. Telzrow is a historian/museum professional living in De Pere, Wisconsin.

Lupe Moreno and Angie Morfin Vargas grew up the daughters of a bracero. Their father was one of the five million temporary contract guest workers who crossed the U.S./Mexican border between 1942 and 1964 to work in America's agricultural fields. Like many other braceros, Jesus "Jesse" Morfin periodically returned to Mexico, but ultimately settled in the United States. With his American-born wife and their four children, Morfin lived a dual life -- publicly a hard-working immigrant, privately a smuggler of illegal aliens.

Lupe Moreno helped her father run a safe house for illegal immigrants, in addition to attending school, running a household, and toiling in the fields. Today she lives in the same Santa Ana, California, house she grew up in, but in an unlikely twist of fate, she and her sister Angie now devote much of their time to campaigning against illegal immigration. As president of the 200-member Latino Americans for Immigration Reform, Lupe Moreno has emerged as one of California's most vocal Hispanic activists speaking out against the illegal immigration invasion.

Forged by Adversity

The second eldest of four children, Lupe Moreno spent her early years in the northern California town of Cottonwood. It was there during the mid-1960s that her father first started running his immigrant smuggling operation. Jesse Morfin, a paper mill employee, paid smugglers between $350 and $400 for each illegal delivered. At first, only family members were smuggled, but Morfin learned to avoid the smuggler's fee by expanding the pipeline to include non-family members. Upon delivery, he would then distribute the illegal workers to the ranches in Tehema or Shasta Counties. Smuggling was a profitable business, but the life of a coyote was filled with risk. The stress associated with the illegal operation eventually destroyed the Morfin family. Lupe's mother left her dad and kids when Lupe was only 10 years old, and relocated to Los Angeles, no longer willing to tolerate the constant flow of strangers and fearful of prosecution.

Shortly thereafter, Mr. Morfin moved to Santa Ana, California, in a last-ditch effort to restore the broken marriage. His refusal to abandon the smuggling trade, however, doomed the reconciliation attempt to failure. Mrs. Morfin refused to reunite with her husband, and conditions worsened in the Morfin household after it became apparent that the marriage was irrevocably broken. Intimidated by a growing number of aggressive visitors, Mr. Morfin took long absences from the scene, visiting only occasionally to give Lupe money to pay the bills and purchase food.

Lupe Moreno, an 11-year-old girl in a parentless household, now assumed the responsibility of caring for her siblings. Without a mother or father to protect them, the four school-aged Morfin children were physically and emotionally abused by illegal immigrants passing through the house. It was a brutal existence that would scar Lupe and her sister Angie for life.

Jesse Morfin was eventually arrested by the INS in 1973. After serving three months in prison, he relocated to King City, California, where he found work in the fields. At age 16, Lupe dropped out of school and married Marcial Moreno, a Mexican national and illegal immigrant who had been living in the Morfin household. After giving birth to her fifth child at age 22, she finally earned her high school diploma. Afterwards, she secured a position in the county immunization department. It was there, while serving large numbers of illegal immigrants, that Moreno began to realize the true economic and social cost of the illegal alien invasion. The story might have ended there, but in 1990, an event occurred that profoundly altered the lives of Lupe Moreno and her sister, Angie Morfin Vargas, and compelled them to take action.

An Activist Awakening

Ruben Morfin, Angie Morfin Vargas' son, was just 13 years old in 1990 when he was shot in the head by Ezequiel Mariscal while walking home from a party. The killer, Mariscal, a gang member and Mexican national, fled to Mexico, where he was eventually apprehended by Mexican authorities with assistance from San Diego's Foreign Prosecution Unit. Mexico's fugitive-friendly laws prevented Mariscal's extradition, but he is now serving a 20-year sentence without parole in the state of Jalisco, Mexico.

For Angie Morfin Vargas, her son's death was a brutal call to action. The former Chicana activist felt particularly wounded because Mariscal, an illegal alien, was the sort of person she might have befriended in previous times. "It was a slap in the face," Morfin Vargas told The New American. "For the first time in my life, I wasn't sure who I was." Once a proponent of unfettered immigration, Morfin Vargas now began to take a critical look at America's immigration policy. Sensing a link between illegal immigration and increased gang activity, she formed Mothers Taking Action Against Gang Violence and began to lobby for an end to the nation's de facto open border policy.

Moreno, driven by her nephew's death and the growing realization that illegal immigration was negatively impacting her community and state, threw her support behind California's Proposition 187. The measure that would have banned public assistance to illegal aliens passed by a margin of 59 percent, but it was ultimately struck down by the U.S. 9th Circuit Court.

For Moreno, however, there was no turning back. Incensed by the brazen flouting of American law by foreign nationals and troubled by U.S. government policies that seemed to encourage illegal immigration, Moreno and Morfin Vargas merged forces in the wake of the defeat of Proposition 187, creating Latino Americans for Immigration Reform (LAIR). In an ultimate irony, the daughters of an immigrant smuggler now campaign to end illegal immigration.

Since 1993, LAIR members have fought against such illegal immigrant-friendly actions as academic multiculturalism, the acceptance of matricula consular identification documents issued by the Mexican government, and California's Senate Bill 60 requiring the DMV to issue driver's licenses to illegal aliens. In the latter case, Moreno was the lead plaintiff in the Pacific Legal Foundation's attempt to overturn Senate Bill 60 in 2003.

In the ongoing battle to secure our nation's borders, Moreno and other LAIR members participated in border patrols with elements of the Minuteman Project and Border Watch last year, and LAIR regularly joins forces with pro-sovereignty organizations like California's Save Our State and the Federation for American Immigration Reform.

This year, LAIR and the Texas Minutemen are planning a peaceful rally near Mr. Bush's Crawford, Texas, ranch. The May 6, 2006 "Rumble at the Ranch" event hopes to raise awareness about the president's guest worker/amnesty program and to further expose his continued refusal to enforce immigration laws. When asked about LAIR's goals, Moreno replied, "It's simple, we want our immigration laws enforced, and the law breakers deported."

Difficult Battle

Political activism has taken a personal toll on Moreno and Morfin Vargas. Moreno's 26-year marriage to Marcial Moreno ended in 2000 because her husband could not accept her opposition to illegal immigration, and she still feels the pain of the dissolution. "This is not what I wanted to do with my life. I gave up my marriage for this," she told The New American.

She has been called a "coconut" and an "Aryan collaborator" by proponents of illegal immigration. But personal attacks and accusations of racism do not faze the redoubtable Moreno, and she wonders why most Americans wilt before such charges. "Americans are like supermen in most regards but a single charge of racism is like kryptonite," Moreno opined.

Both sisters have run unsuccessfully for public office, and the process left each of them battered. "They beat you up so bad. It's not worth it," said Morfin Vargas, who once ran for spots on the Salinas city council and school board. Callous political opponents often mocked Morfin Vargas' loss, telling her to "get over" her son's death. She doubts that she will run again. Moreno, however, recently announced her candidacy for California's 34th Senate District seat.

But perhaps the most demoralizing aspect is President Bush's apparent betrayal of American sovereignty. Moreno and Morfin Vargas are among an increasing number of politically active Hispanic Republicans who have grown disenchanted with the immigration policies of Mr. Bush and fear that he will push through his guest worker/amnesty program. "We worked our butts off to get him elected and he seems to have turned out to be our worst enemy. I can't believe that it has come to this," Moreno said. "He is ready to sell out American taxpayers to a foreign government."

Despite the probability of a prolonged battle, Moreno and Morfin Vargas refuse to cede victory to the open border mob. Moreno, a devout Christian, believes that her participation in the movement to preserve American sovereignty is part of a divine plan. "God sends people to do things," she told The New American. "He has called me to take up the cause." For Morfin Vargas it is the memory of her murdered son and her own past as a daughter of an immigrant smuggler that keeps her in the fight. "My sister and I used to wonder what our purpose in life was. Well, now we know. Our purpose in being is to be witnesses to all this devastation that illegal immigration brings. We have been invaded by people who don't love this country."