Citizens Take Border Patrol in Own Hands

The Minuteman Project, a group that organizes volunteer civilian patrols on the Arizona/Mexico border to report illegal immigrant crossings to the Border Patrol, couldn’t possibly have taken the Bush administration by surprise.

For more than a decade, at least several hundred thousand — possibly several million — illegal aliens have crossed the U.S. border with Mexico every year. This was inconceivable as late as the 1980s, well before the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, but even the worst attacks on U.S. soil were not enough to compel the Bush administration to build a functional border there.

The White House believes such measures as a color-coded terror warning system and a requirement that one partially disrobe before boarding a plane should coexist while millions of people streaming across our borders go unchecked every year.

The Minuteman Project became a necessity after the president’s refusal to authorize more than 250 additional border patrol agents at the US-Mexico border last month after Congress had recommended 10 times that number. Many residents of the Southwest thought that more than any other action, this demonstrated Bush’s attitude toward the growing problem in that region: Ignore it long enough and it will go away.

Bush made his beliefs clear last week when meeting with Mexico’s Vicente Fox. Fox, a foreign head of state, had threatened legal action to block the Minuteman Project’s efforts to report sightings of illegal aliens to the Border Patrol. Bush bettered Fox by labeling the members of the Minuteman Project “vigilantes.”

In President Bush's view, members of the Minuteman Project are vigilantes, while those who cross the border in violation of U.S. laws are “heroes,” as Bush called them during his 2000 campaign.

The Minuteman Project solely positions volunteer observers along the border. When they spot someone crossing the border from Mexico, they alert the Border Patrol.

It’s interesting that while the president regards this as vigilante activity, it is precisely what his administration has asked from banks, travel agencies and even plumbers and cable television installers in connection with the Justice Department's Citizens Corps (search) program.

According to DOJ materials, the Citizens Corps program “works to enhance the capacity of state and local law enforcement to utilize volunteers.” The program asks the cable installer, for instance, to observe what is in plain view while in a customer’s home and to report “suspicious” activity to the FBI.

The DOJ spent tremendous energy defending the program when it was rolled out in the summer of 2002, arguing in the media that ordinary citizens were needed to do contribute to its efforts to prosecute the War on Terror.

This administration wants citizens to alert it to merely suspicious activity in the homes of cable customers but does not want citizens to report the crime of an unauthorized border crossing.

Many illegal aliens are employed cheaply by the agribusiness industry — a major financial donor to the Republican Party. Meanwhile, the desire of ordinary Americans for a sound immigration policy go ignored, even though it is ordinary Americans who subsidize this industry through tax monies paid into state and federal entitlement programs such as Medicaid.

While the effectiveness of the Minuteman Project can be doubted, it might represent a new method for getting elected officials to do what they’ve sworn to do. This week, the Bush administration ordered the redeployment of some members of the Border Patrol to the sector where the Minuteman volunteers will be working starting April 1.

Shame works.

Matt Hayes began practicing immigration law shortly after graduating from Pace University School of Law in 1994, representing new immigrants in civil and criminal matters. He is the author of the soon-to-be-published "The New Immigration Law and Practice."

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