Diciembre 2003 
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Vigilantes on the Border

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 and demand.

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.



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