Grassroots border patrol can become influential

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T he United States Border Patrol is in a panic about a grassroots movement that has sprung up in southern Arizona. Calling themselves the “Minuteman Project,” a group of roughly 500 volunteers plans on patrolling our southern border in search of immigrants from Mexico who are trying to cross into the U.S. illegally. But far from being a dangerous endeavor, this grassroots movement might turn out to be a worthy project with national policy implications.

The Minuteman Project’s mission, according to its website, is to act as a “force-multiplier” for the Border Patrol. Their plan is to assist in the apprehension of undocumented immigrants by acting as observers on the U.S.-Mexico border and reporting positions of groups of immigrants to the Border Patrol. Through this strategy, they hope to help the seriously understaffed Border Patrol cover a larger swath of area and increase the apprehension rate of undocumented immigrants.

But these Minutemen are not gun wielding vigilantes out to kill immigrants. In fact, the founders of this project are putting their message of better immigration enforcement ahead of their act of catching undocumented immigrants. They continuously warn potential volunteers that their “character is consistent with (their) ability to stay within the boundaries of the law.” They discourage their volunteers from carrying firearms, insisting that any weapons they do carry should be for self-defense only and should never leave the holster. They also have a strict policy against even approaching suspected undocumented immigrants, insisting their goal is to assist the Border Patrol by tracking groups of immigrants.

The Border Patrol is, understandably, not very enthusiastic about the help. Border Protection Commissioner Robert C. Bonner warned that his agency is keeping a close eye on the Minutemen’s plans.

“The Border Patrol does this every day, and they are qualified and very well-trained to handle the situation,” Bonner argued. Calling the combination of firearms and isolated setting “a dangerous situation,” Bonner warned that there is a “danger that not just illegal immigrants might get hurt, but that American citizens might get hurt in this situation.”

But the fact that American citizens might get hurt is a major justification for their efforts in the eyes of the Minutemen. They claim to be acting primarily against “drug dealers, criminals and potential terrorists” and for the defense of the American homeland.

Their concerns seem legitimate in light of acting Homeland Secretary Director James Loy’s testimony before Congress. Loy testified that “al-Qaida leaders believe operatives can pay their way through Mexico, and also believe illegal entry is more advantageous than legal entry for operational security reasons.”

Unfortunately, the president does not appear to take this threat very seriously. Indeed, Bush’s initiatives on immigration reform seem geared more toward appeasing a subset of the electorate than securing the nation’s borders. Like the amnesty given to undocumented immigrants under President Reagan, Bush’s amnesty/guest worker program is likely to increase the flow of undocumented immigrants to this country rather than staunch it. With more that three million undocumented people crossing the border every year, Bush’s policies are seen by many on the right as a cynical pandering to Latino voters at the expense of national security.

But with all this in mind, is the Minuteman Project the correct solution? As a general plan to correct the immigration problem, it is not. We simply cannot have private citizens acting as defacto law enforcement. The chances of zealous citizens overreacting and harming otherwise innocent immigrants are quite real. Law enforcement should be left to professionals who are accountable to the public through our elected representatives.

However, as a political protest, the Minuteman Project can be quite successful. This project was born of the frustration towards elected officials who appear “more concerned with securing the borders of foreign lands than securing the borders of the United States.” By patrolling the border, the Minutemen can put pressure on Congress and the president to better enforce immigration laws. If the Minutemen can successfully carry out their protest without anyone getting hurt, then they just may shame their legislators into protecting the citizens of the United States rather than looking out for their own re-election chances.

Sean Paroski is a senior applied mathematics major.