Beefing Up Border Patrol

At the beginning of April, a group of private citizens opposed to illegal immigration who called themselves the Minuteman Project (a reference to the famous 18th-century New England militias) came together to patrol a 23-mile stretch of the United States-Mexican border to observe and report illegal immigrants crossing into the United States.
While the group promised to have over 1,600 border watchers, they admit only 480 of their volunteers have arrived and some media reports put the number as low as 200.
Critics, including Mexican president Vicente Fox and United States president George W. Bush have declared the Minuteman Project as being a vigilante group. This is despite the fact that enforcing U.S. immigration policy isn’t even part of the mission of the group.
Pro-immigrant groups have already been caught erroneously claiming that the Minutemen have detained an illegal immigrant only to be debunked by a video tape of the incident and the county attorney’s office review of the evidence denying their bogus claim.
The Minuteman Project only intends to spot and report illegal immigrants crossing into the United States and to ‘bring national attention’ to the ‘economic and physical danger of porous borders.’
Even the left-leaning LA Weekly admitted that the Minuteman Project doesn’t resemble a vigilante group.
While some volunteers did bring weapons, the vast majority came unarmed.
In order to decrease the likelihood of shady characters being involved, organizers hired a private investigator to investigate all of the volunteers.
While openly carrying a weapon in Arizona is legal, I think that the organization could have watched the border without weapons.
While Andy Adame, a spokesman for the U.S. Border Patrol, did report a decline in the number of illegal immigrants apprehended it is unclear whether the Minutemen are the cause.
As reported by the LA Times, Grupo Beta, a Mexican government agency that aids illegal immigrants, has warned immigrants to either wait until after April when the Minutemen leave or to enter the United States through a different section of the border.
Ironically, while President Fox and the Mexican government openly advocate looser U.S. border patrol, the Mexican government hypocritically defends its southern border with arguably greater vigilance than the U.S. Border Patrol defends the US-Mexican border.
In a Pulitzer Prize-winning story about riding the trains of Mexico, the LA Times followed a Guatemalan boy named Enrique trying to enter Mexico illegaly and discovered that Mexican border agents regularly torture and shoot Central-American immigrants. The methods of U.S. immigration authorities appear tame by comparison.
Clearly, a few hundred volunteers patrolling 23 miles can’t make a dent in the successful illegal border crossings into the United States, assuming that the Minuteman Project is helping as opposed to hindering the the Border Patrol.
While sitting out in the Arizona desert may not be rational, there are legitimate criticisms to be made of the federal government’s lax response to illegal immigration.
While illegal immigrants insist that they are not criminals, that is hardly an argument against beefing up U.S. borders. While most immigrants aren’t terrorists, criminals or drug smugglers, we shouldn’t have to take them at their word.
In response to Sept. 11, increased security at ports and airports is popular, but border security seems to be a low priority. President Bush claims that the number of border patrol agents will be doubled by the end of the decade, but he has allocated nothing for hiring new agents in his budget.
So why wouldn’t terrorists attempt to circumvent the United States’ improving security at border entry points and airports when they can just walk into the, United States? As one of activists signs noted, ‘Bin Laden loves open borders.’
The largely unguarded Canadian border should particularly concern us.
Ahmed Ressam, who attempted to blow up LAX in 1999, was stopped trying to enter the United States through Canada.
Had he been successful, thousands likely would have died in his plot. Accordingly, stronger border control should be a major component of U.S. anti-terrorism policy.
The economic benefits of weak border protections are questionable, as well.
Since most illegal immigrants work in low-paying jobs, they owe little or no income taxes despite often using thousands of dollars in government services.
Hence, illegal immigrants are a net loss to government budgets. Not only are governments harmed, but also low-skill workers face increased competition causing lower wages and higher unemployment for legal and illegal residents alike.
While one illegal immigrant interviewed by the LA Times asked who would pick crops without illegal labor, the high unemployment in the Central Valley shows that there is already a glut of low-skill workers.
While the Minuteman Project’s methods of gaining attention may not aid immigration officials, its desire for stronger border security is rooted in rational concerns.

Shawn Augsburger is a fifth-year history major. He can be contacted at augsburs@uci.edu.