Patrolman Harald Martin of the Anaheim Police Department seems an unlikely supporter of Mexico's leftist Zapatista Army of National Liberation (EZLN). But he calls the Chiapas-based insurgents “the closest thing you can find to George Washington” and sees himself as somehow like them—locked in a bitter war with the Mexican government.
Martin's battlefield is Anaheim, where he is the president of the city's high school district and a full-fledged participant in the anti-immigrant craze that has swept the United States in recent years; he's still a member in good standing of Barbara Coe's Huntington Beach-based Coalition for Immigration Reform, which sponsored Proposition 187, the voter-approved/court-rejected November 1994 state ballot initiative to deny education and other services to illegal immigrants.
Two weeks ago, Martin ordered the Anaheim Union High School District to draft a resolution billing the Mexican government $50 million—an amount Martin believes reflects the costs associated with providing education to the children of immigrant families in Anaheim, most of whom, Martin believes, illegally crossed into the United States from Mexico.
There is no doubting Anaheim's educational crisis. According to the California Department of Education, 72 percent of the city's elementary students are economically disadvantaged. Roughly half of those 14,000 students speak limited English, and nearly all tested in the bottom half of California students in the most recent Stanford 9 poll. The numbers are even worse for students in the Anaheim Union High School District.
Martin's response to the problem is to blame illegal immigration. “There are about 30,000 students in the school district, and about 20 percent of those are illegal,” Martin declared in a July 19 interview with the Weekly.
Martin makes no bones about the fact that his estimate is merely a guess and that he actually has no idea how many children in Anaheim schools are illegal immigrants—or from Mexico.
“$50 million was just an estimate of the cost for education services for the past several years, at about $10 million per year,” Martin explained. “The real number would have to be calculated based on average daily attendance. The U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service [INS] would have to go into the school database and do the research.”
Which is why Martin has also asked the school board to draft a resolution officially requesting the INS to identify and deport the families of any undocumented children it can discover lurking in the hallways and classrooms of the city's schools.
Needless to say, Martin's proposal has been greeted with anger and frustration by many observers, especially within Anaheim's large and powerful Latino community. They say the proposal to bring the INS into the city's schools not only violates California's constitution, which provides for public education free of cost to all children, but is also a thinly veiled attempt to sidestep his poor record of leadership on educational issues.
“Harald Martin has completely destroyed the feelings of trust and goodwill that were built up with years of hard work between the city, the police department and the community,” said Amin David, president of Los Amigos, an Anaheim-based community group. “His agenda is to diffuse the fact that the Anaheim high school district has done a very poor job of educating our youngsters. His record is dismal.”
Indeed, although Martin has been involved in local school politics for many years—starting as a board member of the kindergarten-through-grade-six Anaheim City School District—his chief contribution to city politics so far has been to transform the Anaheim Police Department into a blue-uniformed subsidiary of the green-shirted INS. It's a struggle that Martin recalls with pride, even claiming that he is personally responsible for starting the program that brought a full-time INS officer into the Anaheim city jail.
According to Martin, he came up with the idea about six years ago. He claims he wrote numerous memoranda suggesting the idea to the city's police chief, the late Randall Gaston, who initially opposed the program. “Chief Gaston was not in support of doing this,” Martin told the Weekly. “His personal beliefs were that the people should just be left alone. But once he understood the scope of the problem, he changed his mind.”
Part of the reason for Gaston's change of heart may have been the murder of Anaheim police officer Tim Garcia, who was shot by an illegal immigrant in September 1995. The suspect had an extensive criminal history and had been arrested several times in the U.S., but he had never been deported. After Garcia's murder, Gaston lobbied for legislation to enact Martin's proposal, which was finally implemented in 1996 when U.S. Congressman Christopher Cox (R-Newport Beach) wrote legislation authorizing the INS to work inside the Anaheim jail. Dozens of deportations ensued, and the program won widespread attention among law-enforcement officials and politicians eager to use the program as a way of seeming tough on crime. On Dec. 9, 1997, President Bill Clinton signed a new law taking Martin's Anaheim-INS jail program nationwide, bringing it to 100 other city and county jails around the country.
But the outcome of Martin's latest proposal—billing Mexico for the cost of educating allegedly large numbers of illegal immigrants in Anaheim—is less certain. INS policy expressly forbids its agents from conducting immigration raids at or near schools and churches. Moreover, after speaking with several attorneys, board member Alexandria Coronado (a Martin ally charged with researching his proposal) concluded last week that the school district had no legal authority to bill Mexico or any another country for its own education costs.
Coronado has promised to hold a series of public forums on the issue, but Martin has already received a taste of how the community feels about his idea. At a July 15 board meeting, 34 Spanish-speaking Anaheim residents threatened to sue Martin for harassment and intimidation stemming from his repeated attacks on “illegal aliens.” Each lawsuit claims $5,000 in damages, totaling $170,000 in all. One of those plaintiffs is Josie Montoya, a leader of the Anaheim-based community group United Neighborhoods.
Montoya's legal strategy of suing Martin in small-claims court has been criticized by some members of the Latino community, including Nativo Lopez of the Santa Ana-based Hermandad Mexicana Nacional. At a July 21 meeting of Los Amigos, Lopez suggested instead a recall campaign. “I felt we had to act immediately,” countered Montoya. “Now Martin has 34 separate lawsuits to respond to. If he doesn't show up in court, it's an automatic loss—$5,000 each time. The way we look at it, at least on those 34 days, he'll be too preoccupied to go around dreaming up any more of his little racist schemes.”
Award-winning investigative journalist Nick Schou is Editor of OC Weekly. He is the author of Kill the Messenger: How the CIA’s Crack Cocaine Controversy Destroyed Journalist Gary Webb (Nation Books 2006), which provided the basis for the 2014 Focus Features release starring Jeremy Renner and the L.A. Times-bestseller Orange Sunshine: The Brotherhood of Eternal Love’s Quest to bring Peace, Love and Acid to the World, (Thomas Dunne 2009). He is also the author of The Weed Runners (2013) and Spooked: How the CIA Manipulates the Media and Hoodwinks Hollywood (2016).