With the debut of ABC’s newest reality television show “Homeland Security USA,” which recently aired in January, local Orange County organizations and several UC Irvine students gathered to protest either in support or against the illegal immigration debate on Sunday, Feb. 15 in front of ABC Disney studios in Burbank, CA.
In reaction to “Homeland Security USA,” there has been an abundance of controversy that has sparked debates both in favor of and against the illegal immigration issue in the United States. The reality TV show depicts the lives of the men and women of the Department of Homeland Security who patrol U.S. borders, including airports, seaports, land borders and more.
The protest was organized by Southern California Immigration Coalition (SCIC), an immigrant-rights group. However, counter-protestors, including representatives from Save Our State, an anti-illegal immigration group, rallied in favor of the show, carrying American flags and waving them to show their patriotic support.
Chelene Nightingale, the managing director for Save Our State and head organizer for the rally, reported that there were approximately a hundred people who attended the protest, admitting that the SCIC side had a slightly larger crowd.
“Most of them were wearing [what we called] ‘Nazi uniforms’ and called themselves the ‘brown berets,’ ” Nightingale said.
Although the rally only lasted for a couple hours, there were times when the debate became somewhat heated.
According to Nightingale, the Save Our State protestors allowed representatives from the opposing side to roam around their designated area. However, Nightingale stated that when one of the Save Our State protestors attempted to obtain footage of the opposite side, he was assaulted.
“I thought it was effective to show that there is only freedom on one side,” Nightingale said. “It was shocking for me to see a Marxist agenda.”
However, Save Our State was not the only side that received some pressure. Several police officers armed with riot gear served as a barrier between the two groups, causing the immigrant-rights groups to feel slightly underpowered.
Tina Shull, a UCI graduate student in the history department and an immigrant-rights advocate, described an incident in which a police officer took down the information of an undocumented man who was protesting on the SCIC side.
“Maybe [the] police were a little biased … I don’t know what will happen to him now,” Shull said.
Sunday’s protest was largely due to the controversies ignited by chat room discussions and online blogs, which have catalyzed a series of petitions and e-mails. One such media outlet is a Facebook group called “ABC: Take ‘Homeland Security USA’ reality show OFF the air!!,” created by Shull, in hopes of uniting people together to support their cause.
At its start in December 2008, Shull’s Facebook group immediately found support with over 500 members. Now, Shull reports that the group has expanded to over 2,000 supporters across the nation.
“A lot of people have asked me what the big deal is [since] it is just a stupid reality TV show, but that’s why I’m upset about it,” Shull said. “[The show] is not going to give a good depiction [and] not going to show the other side of the story.”
Shull’s husband was deported a year and a half ago, and she aims to educate people in regards to how many lives are affected through these anti-immigration laws that separate many American family members.
“This happens to nice, normal citizens like me. It’s not a problem that is just among the immigrant community,” Hull said. “It’s a problem for all citizens.”
In addition to Shull’s story, many other protestors shared their experiences through inspirational speeches, which were videotaped and will be sent to the producers and executives of ABC. As of now, their petitions and letter have received no response.
Another student protestor involved in Sunday’s rally was Sallie Lin, a fourth-year political science major at UCLA. As the only Asian-American protestor that day, Lin wanted to strongly encourage others to support a positive image for not only Mexicans, but for Asians as well.
“We need to protest [this] show that perpetuates these stereotypes that all Mexicans are undocumented,” Lin said. “We need to see this as a universal issue experienced by all races.
Yet, while Lin believed that the show “Homeland Security USA” and other forms of media have been portraying minorities in a stereotypical and demeaning light, Nightingale spoke in favor of the show by describing it as unbiased and impartial, citing cases that did not involve Middle Eastern or Mexican immigrants.
“I didn’t think it was race-based at all,” Nightingale said. “If anything, I thought [there were] more white people who were pulled over.”
Nightingale went on to list other featured immigrants, such as a Swedish woman who did not have her papers as well as several Americans who were trying to cross into Canada.
“We are lucky to be in a country where we have a government that wants to secure us,” Nightingale said. “And we should want to be secured unless we forget what happened on Sept. 11. Without secure borders, we would have no idea what is coming in here. It’s not racist to want to have a secure nation.”
However, with Shull, Lin and the SCIC, the debate regarding illegal immigrant rights is far from over.
“I would like to promote activism among the Asian population,” Lin said. “UCI has a large Asian-American population and it is important to relate to these immigrant issues. We are not just protesting one show, but the system.”