The fact that Latinos come to the U.S. illegally is nothing new. Throughout its history,
America has depended on the labor provided by immigrants from the south, both legal and
illegal. Our government has provided legal means for these immigrants to work, in programs
like the Bracero Program (1942 - 1965) which provided temporary work visas for Mexican
farmworkers. But current policy implicitly welcomes undocumented immigrants by turning a
blind eye to their illegal crossings, realizing that they are needed to work in agriculture,
construction and other labor-intensive jobs for which U.S. labor cannot meet the demand.
Latino workers are very appealing to an employer because of their flexibility and compliance
and their tendency not to make undue demands.
During the 1990's it was not unusual to see, in broad daylight, Latinos sprinting across
Interstate 5 in California to cross the border into the US. As a matter of fact, the problem
became so big that they placed signs on the freeway cautioning drivers to watch out for
them. It turned into a compelling and embarrassing political issue and the government
responded by providing increased immigration enforcement in these urban crossing areas.
That action, however, only forced the illegal aliens to cross over in more rural and remote
areas, places like Cochise County, Arizona.
Cochise County is an area through which many illegal immigrants are coming to the U.S.
Crossing here takes them through large expanses of desert, and across government and
privately owned land. The government has put few of its resources into monitoring border
crossings at this point, in part because the county's low population density allows
politicians to ignore the problem, and a lack of media coverage keeps the issue from the
public's attention. The illegal immigrants who traverse these large expanses of land are
accused of leaving trails of trash and human waste in their path, letting out cattle,
helping themselves to water and sometimes entering houses in search of food, water, or
valuables. It is understandable that private property owners would feel violated.
In reaction to this problem, some Cochise County private organizations have taken it upon
themselves to enforce their version of US Immigration law. If you look at the web sites of
these groups (like RanchRescue.com or AmericanPatrol.com) it seems clear that they are
bigoted and racist groups, ostensibly dedicated to protecting private property rights, but
willing to trample US, local and human rights laws to achieve their goals. Although many of
the individuals who support these groups may be well-intentioned private property owners,
the groups' rhetoric sounds disturbingly similar to the Ku Klux Klan and other fanatical
organizations. There have been widespread reports of vigilante groups abusing, torturing and
even killing immigrants who are unlucky enough to fall into their hands. These vigilantes
act with virtual impunity because the illegal aliens they capture rarely complain to police
or government officials about any mistreatment.
Finding, perhaps punishing, and returning illegal immigrants must rest in the purview of
legally mandated authorities and not private vigilante groups. The rules of immigration
should be decided by consensus and translated into law - as they are now - and in the end
they must be enforced by officials who are legitimately contracted by the government and who
are held accountable to the public in the performance of their duties. Enforcement of US
immigration laws is the responsibility of the government, but this enforcement must not
simply take place at the border against the most defenseless people involved - those driven
by economic hardship to seek a better life in America. The government must enforce
immigration laws with private businesses as well. Currently, few tax dollars are spent
imposing deterrents or penalties on employers for hiring illegal workers even though the
employers are the ones who have made the unlawful crossings lucrative. If employers in
America were not so willing to hire undocumented workers, fewer Latinos would leave their
families and risk their lives to come to America illegally. It's a classic case of supply
It is very difficult for this writer to oppose persons coming to this country because
they desire a better life. But that is a topic for another article. My purpose here is to
argue that vigilantes cannot be the ones allowed to enforce their own version of U.S. laws
under the guise of protecting our sovereignty, jobs, property and personal safety.
Ultimately, they themselves are often violating laws - regarding civil and human rights and
gun possession - and are no less guilty than the "illegals" they are apprehending,
threatening, and abusing. The solution to America's immigration problem does not lie in the
hands of roving bands of armed vigilantes. It is time for the federal government to accept
its responsibility and devise a workable and humane strategy for controlling immigration on
our southern border - before the situation gets truly out of hand.