- The Washington Times - Friday, March 4, 2005

When Washington fails to act, the states pick up its charge. That’s quickly becoming the new conventional wisdom on illegal immigration, especially in stricken places like Arizona. Last year, by a decisive margin, Arizona’s voters passed Proposition 200, a measure to curb public benefits to illegals. Now, in about three weeks, a 700-man, 24-hour citizens’ patrol along the state’s notoriously porous southern border is set to begin.

The Minuteman Project, as the patrollers are calling themselves, will fan out along the Arizona-Mexico border to observe and report on illegals. They will liase with the Border Patrol and attempt to create a visible presence to deter would-be smugglers and migrants. Law enforcement officials have cautioned them against this, saying altercations and violence are likely. The minutemen aren’t deterred. “If it’s not safe to sit on a lawn chair on American soil,” organizer Chris Simcox told us Thursday, “then we have a serious problem.” He says any violence would be instigated by would-be traffickers from the south, not the patrollers.

As a matter of law, the minutemen won’t be doing anything illegal, at least not if the guidelines Mr. Simcox and his colleagues set are followed. They plan to sit in visible places along known smuggling routes with ham radios and cell phones at the ready. The aim is not to be vigilantes — and we wouldn’t support breaking the law. The goal of the project is to help border-patrol agents locate illegals. Some will carry firearms — legal in the places the minutemen will be — and since many patrollers are ex-military or law enforcement, it’s highly likely they will. They are instructed to avoid contact and to avoid engagement. They pledge to use firearms only in self-defense. “Remove the firearm from the holster for any reason,” the minuteman handbook reads, “and your group members will likely send you on your way back home.”

Still, law enforcement officials aren’t optimistic about such pledges. “They are absolutely not equipped to deal with the border environment,” Tucson Border Patrol Chief Michael Nicely told The Washington Times in January. “It could be a very [volatile] situation, one that reasonable people ought to avoid.” Indeed, the kind of altercations that worry Chief Nicely seem all too likely. Attacks on Border Patrol agents this year are happening at a rate 80 percent higher than last year, as Jerry Seper reported in The Washington Times a month ago. Smugglers routinely fire on armed U.S. agents, so there’s not much to stop them from firing on military vets who phone up the same agents they shot at last week.

We’d like to point out that none of this would be happening if Washington had tackled the illegal immigration problem in the serious way it should have years ago. Failing to act, President Bush and Congress have forced the hand of ordinary citizens who feel compelled to do something. It is regrettable — not to say pathetic — that the United States is reduced to citizens’ patrols to secure its national borders. If and when violent incidents occur, critics will point to warnings like Chief Nicely’s and wag fingers. What they won’t do is ask why the failed immigration policy that prompted the Minuteman Project is still in place.

The flaws of ad hoc, irregular arrangements like the Minuteman Project are all too easy to see. Americans have a God-given right to protect their land, but the problems that flow from such actions are not the fault of Arizonans and others behind such efforts. They’re Washington’s fault. They show how fully Mr. Bush and Congress have abdicated responsibility on a critical national issue.


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