updated 10/30/2005 1:50:19 AM ET 2005-10-30T05:50:19

Dueling demonstrations over a plan to create state border police drew nearly 1,000 people to the Capitol on Saturday, and about two dozen police officers, some on horseback, stood between the rival gatherings to maintain order.

Authorities reported three arrests during the two-hour standoff, which illustrated California’s growing divide over how best to secure its border with Mexico.

A proposed ballot initiative by Assemblyman Ray Haynes, R-Murrieta, to create a state immigration police force was the reason for the rallies, but the role that volunteer citizen patrols known as “Minutemen” play on the Mexico-U.S. border also prompted debate.

A San Diego-based group announced last month that it had taken border patrols into its own hands to stop illegal immigrants and drug smugglers form entering California.

“We have a major problem on the border with the illegals,” said Robin Gable, 50 of Sacramento, who was one of about 300 who came to hear speeches from politicians and others urging voters to sign ballot petitions. “I’m here to support the Minutemen and our border patrols. You have terrorists, there’s drugs coming across. Something has to be done about it.”

Not far away on the sidewalk stood Tomas Alejo, 30, of Watsonville, Calif., who was part of a counterprotest of about 700 people.

“Our people should be treated with dignity and respect,” he said. “We don’t believe that people should be dogged if they are from one side of the border or the other. We denounce what the Minutemen are all about.”

Haynes said he hopes his initiative qualifies for the 2006 ballot. The border police force would be charged specifically with enforcing federal immigration laws.

Peter Camejo, the Green Party’s 2004 vice presidential candidate, led the counter-protest. He said the effort to seal off the borders is wrong, and that those coming across the border are needed for the American economy.

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