Albert Lea sign controversy: "Deport Illegals" message sparks protest
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Later today, people will gather to protest a controversial electronic sign displayed on the side of an Albert Lea building owned by a man who makes his money circulating porn videos.
The sign, visible on the side of the Dima Corp. building, which is owned by adult entertainment businessman Mal Prinzing, reads: "Catch and release - no! Deport Illegals - Si."
Prinzing's anti-illegal immigrant message hasn't been contained to the side of the Dima building. His company also rents the large yellow signs that are seen trailing behind airplanes, and last Thursday, the "Deport Illegals" message was scrawled on a banner flying above Albert Lea.
Today's protest, scheduled for 6 to 8:30 p.m. across the street from the Dima Corp. building, is being organized by Centro Campesino, an Owatonna-based organization "concerned about the well being and the empowerment of migrant workers and year round immigrant Latino residents of south-central Minnesota."
In a news release, Centro Campesino cites the following objections to the sign:
-- The phrase "catch and release - no" dehumanizes undocumented immigrants by likening their arrest and deportation to the sport of fishing.
-- This sign is racist because [it] targets the Latino and Hispanic population, when in fact undocumented immigrants come from all nationalities.
-- The sign creates an unwelcoming and hostile environment for all Hispanic and Latino people in Albert Lea, not just those who are undocumented.
This ignorant sign is not a constructive critique of illegal immigration, but a rather [sic] tactic to spread hate and alienate Latino people in the area.
But some Albert Lea residents and city officials argue that whether one agrees or disagrees with Prinzing's message, he has a First Amendment right to display the sign on his property.
"What happened to free speech?" asked Paul Westrum, founder of the Minnesota Coalition for Immigration Reduction and an Albert Lea resident. "A guy has free speech and puts a sign out there. Why is anybody complaining about it?"
Westrum said he and others from his group plan to attend the protest Monday night, mainly to answer questions from Centro Campesino.
"We've had immigration laws on the books for years and years, but for the last 20 years our government has refused to protect us with these laws," he said.
City Inspector Doug Johnson said he has been receiving several calls about the sign this week from people questioning whether it violates city ordinances. Johnson said despite what some people think, Prinzing went through all of the proper channels to have the sign installed, and the sign is legal.
"He did get a permit, and he did have a licensed sign hanger to hang that sign up there," he said. "We can't do anything about the content, nor should we. That's a First Amendment right."
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