- The Washington Times - Friday, May 13, 2005

When the Minutemen first announced their vigil on a 23-mile stretch of the Arizona-Mexico border, critics from all sides said that it’s a job best left to “the professionals.” In this case, the professionals comprise the Border Patrol agency. But what happens when “the professionals” are ordered not to do their jobs? That’s the word that Jerry Seper of The Washington Times heard from numerous Border Patrol agents, who asked to remain anonymous.

According to this newspaper’s front-page story yesterday, “U.S. Border Patrol agents have been ordered not to arrest illegal aliens along the section of the Arizona border where protesters patrolled last month because an increase in apprehensions there would prove the effectiveness of Minuteman volunteers.”

Border Patrol officials here in Washington are denying this — but, then, they’ve also denied other accounts coming from their agents in the field. Rep. Tom Tancredo has also heard from “credible sources” within the Border Patrol of the alleged order, giving congressional weight to Mr. Seper’s report. “This is another example of decisions being made at the highest levels of the Border Patrol that are hurting morale and helping to rot the agency from within,” Mr. Tancredo said.

From the very beginning of Project Minuteman, which was organized by Arizonian Chris Simcox, official word from Border Patrol has been condemnatory. First, the agency said, the Minutemen would only aggravate problems with illegal aliens flooding across the border and lead to violent clashes. When that didn’t happen, the Border Patrol said the Minutemen’s efforts were negligible and might be worsening the situation. But the facts didn’t support this claim. It didn’t help that President Bush labeled them “vigilantes,” when in fact none of the Minutemen were breaking any laws.

Unofficially, Border Patrol agents were appreciative of the Minutemen and gave them a “thumbs up,” according to Mr. Simcox, who has spoken with many agents. Many credited the Minutemen with a dramatic drop in the flow of illegal aliens along their stretch of border, which went form an average of 500 a day to less than 15 a day. In other words, the illegals had stopped trying to cross over at that section of the border. At a House Government Reform Committee hearing Thursday, U.S. Customs and Border Protection Commissioner Robert C. Bonner praised the Minutemen, saying that they had made a difference.

But for whatever reason Border Patrol officials have viewed the Minuteman Project as some kind of competitor. Last week, for instance, on the order of Tucson Sector Chief Michael Nicely, Border Patrol agents denied Mr. Simcox entry to a Department of Homeland Security press conference in Arizona. It’s perhaps not too surprising that Mr. Nicely has been an outspoken critic of the Minuteman Project. We’d like to think that a sector chief wouldn’t allow personal issues to influence his job — but how else can one make sense of his order, if not as some vendetta against Mr. Simcox? After all, Mr. Simcox is apparently good enough to testify before Congress, as he did Thursday.

Now, as Mr. Seper reported, more than a dozen agents said their supervisors at the Naco, Ariz., station “made it clear that arrests were ‘not to go up’ along the 23-mile stretch.” It “was clear to everyone here what was being said and why. The apprehensions were not to increase after the Minuteman volunteers left. It was as simple as that,” one veteran agent said.

It seems as if Border Patrol supervisors feel it is more important to discredit the Minutemen than it is to do their job. What could account for this? Perhaps some in the Border Patrol bureaucracy are more concerned about their own survival than they are about performing their jobs. Discrediting the effective work of the Minutemen is a good way to try to make it seem as if concerned citizens are incapable of making a dent in the problem. Unfortunately, the problems are exacerbated by the attitude of many in the Bush administration and by Democrats and Republicans on Capitol Hill, who seem to view border security as a nuisance that interferes with their more enlightened agenda: making it as easy as possible for illegal aliens to violate our borders.

Fortunately, the brave agents defending our borders don’t think that way. For them, as for the Minuteman volunteers, there’s a job to do, if only their bureaucratic masters would let them do it.