JT Ready’s phone signal was breaking up as he rode in the cab of a surplus military transport vehicle on his way to Vandenberg Air Force Base in California.
It was part of a convoy of vehicles Ready and others from the Valley plan to use when they begin armed patrols along the Mexican border.
Ready hopes someday the trucks can be loaned to Mesa police so they can be used to ship illegal immigrants rounded up in the city back to the border, or at least to another city. If the cops won’t make the drive, Ready is willing to do it himself.
Until then, the trucks will be used to transport Ready and others who organized a group called First Defender Corps, made up largely of ex-military men who plan to do citizens’ patrols in dangerous border areas favored by violent smugglers.
The cab of the military transport would seem an odd place to mount a campaign for Mesa City Council. But Ready, a member of the Minuteman Civil Defense Corps that sparked controversy by monitoring the border last year, says illegal immigration is degrading the lifestyle in the central-Mesa district he hopes to represent.
District 4 is the most heavily Hispanic district in the city. The 2000 census put the Hispanic population at just under half.
Ready says his activism to seal the nation’s borders is resonating with Hispanic voters who are tired of seeing their neighborhoods deteriorate as illegal immigrants stand on street corners for jobs, cram into rental housing, blare loud music and toss beer cans in their front yards.
“When you say Hispanic, I think it’s racist that that all of the sudden translates to they are pro-illegal, that they are anti-American. That’s simply not true,” said Ready, a security guard and concealed weapons instructor.
“Hispanic Americans are for the most part just as upset with illegal immigration as anyone else. Maybe even more so because it affects their neighborhoods directly,” Ready said.
Though controlling the border is a federal responsibility, the city can improve the quality of life in neighborhoods that have been taken over by illegal immigrants through such things as enforcement of noise and litter ordinances, he said.
Ready also said he would like to see Mesa police certified to arrest illegal immigrants. The city should have a stronger police presence where illegal workers congregate, and should invite groups like the Minutemen to videotape people picking up laborers thought to be illegals much like other groups do to discourage prostitution, he said.
“It’s not about race or ancestry,” said Ready, a Republican precinct committeeman in Legislative District 18. “It’s about doing things legally or not and it’s about the economic toll and the cultural toll it’s having upon our schools and our neighborhoods. Some parts of our neighborhoods, it’s totally Third World.”
Voters in the district have signaled before that they support tougher measures against illegal immigration. Proposition 200, the statewide ballot initiative to restrict benefits to illegal immigrants, passed in every precinct in 2004. In most precincts, it passed by 10 or more percentage points.
Among the politicians who currently represent voters in District 4 is Rep. Russell Pearce, R-Mesa, one of the state’s most high-profile advocates of tougher laws to curtail illegal immigration. Pearce said he receives broad support from Hispanics in the district.
Phil Austin, a Mesa lawyer and president of the Mesa Association of Hispanic Citizens, said Hispanics who have lived in the United States for years are more likely to vote and to support tougher laws to combat illegal immigration.
“Those who are eligible to vote and will vote are more stable, have businesses, families and employment,” Austin said in assessing how Hispanic voters will respond to Ready’s views on illegal immigration. “Those who vote are not going to be as supportive of the day labor centers and are not going to be as supportive of amnesty.”
Austin, who is supporting Pat Esparza in the council race, also said Ready will draw some support from the half of the district that is not Hispanic. Despite that, Austin dismissed Ready as “a clown.”
Ready, 32, spent four years in the Marine Corps and ran unsuccessfully for the Legislature two years ago. He finished last among the six Republicans.
Ready’s Web site in the legislative campaign included links to photos of aborted fetuses, which the staunch abortion opponent says showed the debate was more than esoteric. Ready also advocated withholding state tax payments to the federal government to protest its demands that “we teach our children homosexuality or something else we disagree with” in schools.
Ready says his concern is not so much directed at homosexuals, but rather that schools should be teaching reading, writing and math, not social issues.
At the city level, an employee’s sexual orientation is not the government’s business, Ready said. Mesa could dodge the controversy over whether to pay city benefitssuch as health insurance to homosexual couples by simply letting workers buy their own coverage, he said.