The Washington Times, May 13, 2005
Last month's border-watch program in Arizona called the Minuteman Project is likely to be only the first of many such efforts by frustrated Americans. Its endorsement by many congressmen, and especially by California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, virtually guarantees that more private citizens will volunteer to help monitor our neglected border with Mexico in an effort to shame Washington into action.
What have we learned from the initial effort in Arizona?
First of all, we can safely dismiss the scare tactics of opponents of immigration enforcement. From the ACLU "observers" sent to intimidate the Minutemen, to the Mexican government's lies about "immigrant hunters," to President Bush's shameful smear of these volunteers as "vigilantes," every prediction of extremism has proven false. The Minutemen (and Minutewomen) were exactly what they claimed to be -- responsible patriots simply reporting illegal crossers to the Border Patrol. These ordinary people, untrained in the ways of political theater, nonetheless showed themselves to be sober and disciplined, guarding the integrity of their efforts against fringe elements and never succumbing to the provocations of their opponents. We should be proud to live in a country that produces such citizens.
A related lesson is that the absurd hyperbole about racism, xenophobia and the like tells us more about the critics than about the Minutemen. These falsehoods were never meant to be a meaningful critique of the Minutemen; instead, they represent the same party line that we've heard for years from the pro-illegal immigration lobby. Groups such as the ACLU, the National Council of La Raza, and the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund have played a central role in shaping our policy of non-enforcement; therefore anything that threatens to change that policy -- even retirees in lawn chairs calling the Border Patrol -- has to be denounced.
The open-borders lobby fears the Minutemen for two main reasons: First these groups don't want attention focused on illegal immigration unless it casts illegals in the most sympathetic light, such as when they tragically die in the desert or are exploited in sweatshops. Only a steady drip of sympathetic human-interest stories about illegal aliens can help the anti-borders crowd achieve its goal of demonizing the very idea of immigration law enforcement.
The other reason critics are desperate to marginalize the Minutemen is the hope that doing so will distract attention from the fact that the Minutemen actually did what they set out to do -- stop almost all illegal crossings along a section of the border. It turns out that enforcing the border really is possible. Given the harm that illegal immigration does to low-wage American workers, to taxpayers and to the rule of law, and the enormous threat it poses to national security, it is truly a disgrace that there are fewer than 2,000 Border Patrol agents on duty at any one time along the Mexican border. The Minutemen showed that just by adding more eyes and ears along the border, we can dramatically reduce illegal crossings.
Of course, illegal aliens enter in ways and in places other than the Southern border. Other needed tactics include going after employers who hire illegals, being more careful about issuing temporary visas, making sure illegals can't get government-issued IDs and more effectively policing the border with Canada. But the idea so often pushed by illegal-immigration apologists that the border is uncontrollable is completely wrong.
Finally, public reaction to the Minutemen tells us much about the politics of the immigration issue. Research has shown that illegal immigration is one of the issues where the public and the elite disagree most profoundly -- ordinary Americans think it's a huge problem, while members of the elite (the research included journalists, politicians, professors, business executives, union officials, religious leaders, etc.) care little about it. This helps explain why Mr. Bush assumed that the Minutemen were vigilantes, and it also explains the deluge of negative media coverage and disparaging editorials. But even in the face of this elite assault on the Minutemen, public-opinion polls generally showed support for what they were doing.
Hillary Clinton is a smart politician who understands the popularity of enforcing immigration laws -- that's why she's been trying to repackage herself as tough on the issue. Some Republicans, on the other hand -- Sen. John McCain comes to mind -- continue to oppose meaningful immigration enforcement and back amnesty for illegal aliens. If Republicans follow this Bush/McCain path of ignoring public sentiment and listening instead to out-of-touch journalists and political fixers, they'd better get used to the idea of saying "President Clinton" again.
Mark Krikorian is Executive Director and Steven Camarota is Director of Research at the Center for Immigration Studies.