LOS ANGELES – The Department of Homeland Security (search) announced Thursday it has no plans to enlist citizen volunteers to help patrol U.S. borders, one day after its top border enforcement official said he was exploring such an idea.
On Wednesday, Customs and Border Protection Commissioner Robert C. Bonner (search) told The Associated Press that his agency was considering the training of volunteers to create "something akin to a Border Patrol auxiliary."
But a Homeland Security spokesman issued a statement Thursday backing off Bonner's controversial suggestion.
"There are currently no plans by the Department of Homeland Security to use civilian volunteers to patrol the border," Brian J. Roehrkasse said. "That job should continue to be done by the highly trained, professional law enforcement officials."
Roehrkasse added that Bonner, whose agency is part of Homeland Security, had not told department officials "any specific details of the idea."
Bonner's comments had marked a significant shift.
Before a high-profile civilian campaign along the Arizona-Mexico border in April, Bonner had urged citizens not to interfere with his agents' work, saying "ordinary Americans" weren't qualified for what can be a dangerous task.
Apparently, however, that "Minuteman Project (search)" had an effect. Bonner said his agency focused on citizen involvement after noting how eager volunteers were to stop illegal immigration.
"It is actually as a result of seeing that there is the possibility in local border communities, and maybe even beyond, of having citizens that would be willing to volunteer to help the Border Patrol," Bonner said in an interview Wednesday. "But with some training and being organized in a way that would be something akin to a Border Patrol auxiliary."
Bonner said Wednesday that the idea was conceptual and that details such as whether citizens would be deputized to enforce federal immigration law hadn't been worked out. A spokeswoman said that a range of proposals were being considered, including having volunteers do clerical work so more agents could work in the field.
Immediate reaction to Bonner's idea was generally skeptical.
A representative with the Border Patrol agents' union called it irresponsible, immigrant friendly groups panned it and one organizer of the Minuteman Project said it was well-intentioned but not likely to become reality.