- The Washington Times - Thursday, July 21, 2005

The Homeland Security Department yesterday outright rejected a proposal by one of its own top executives that the government work with civilian volunteers in patrolling the U.S. border against illegal immigration, saying it’s not going to happen.

“There are currently no plans by the Department of Homeland Security to use civilian volunteers to patrol the border,” spokesman Brian J. Roehrkasse said. “That job should continue to be done by highly trained, professional law-enforcement officials.”

His comments were in response to interviews this week in California of U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) Commissioner Robert C. Bonner, during which he said the U.S. Border Patrol was considering training volunteers to create “something akin to a Border Patrol auxiliary.”

Mr. Roehrkasse said Homeland Security executives, for whom Mr. Bonner works, had not been told “any specific details” of the Bonner proposal.

More than 15,000 civilian volunteers are expected to man observation posts and conduct foot and horseback patrols this fall along the Mexican border from Texas to California and in seven states on the Canadian border in a new Minuteman vigil called to protest the government’s lax immigration enforcement policies.

Volunteers will be deployed in California, Arizona, New Mexico and Texas. Other Minuteman groups will patrol the border regions of Idaho, Maine, Michigan, Minnesota, North Dakota, Vermont and Washington state.

Mr. Bonner, in earlier interviews with The Washington Times, said that although the volunteers who patrolled the Arizona border in the first Minuteman Project vigil in April had brought significant press attention to the problem of illegal immigration and had done so peacefully, he feared that some of them could get hurt in the future if they are not properly trained and supervised.

He told the House Government Reform Committee in May that although the Border Patrol, an agency he oversees as a part of CBP, historically has valued the support of citizens, he wanted to “determine if there is a way to more effectively harness citizen volunteers.”

“We are concerned about people getting unnecessarily hurt or killed in what can be a very dangerous and treacherous place,” he testified.

President Bush has referred to the Arizona volunteers as “vigilantes,” and Border Patrol supervisors in Arizona discounted their efforts, saying a drop in apprehensions during the protest was a result of the Mexican government’s deployment of military and police in the targeted area and a new federal program that brought manpower increases to the state.

The Border Patrol supervisors also blamed the volunteers for unnecessarily tripping sensors, disturbing draglines and interfering with the normal operations of the agents. They said civilians should leave immigration enforcement “to the professionals.”

In the California interviews, Mr. Bonner said CBP thought that based on the peaceful conduct of the Arizona volunteers, there was “value” in having the “eyes and ears of the citizens.”

“It is actually as a result of seeing that there is the possibility in local border communities, and maybe even beyond, of having citizens that would be willing to volunteer to help the Border Patrol — but with some training and being organized in a way that would be something akin to a Border Patrol auxiliary,” he said.

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