We’ve reached a very strange moment in the immigration debate. On Wednesday President Bush condemned a group of good American citizens worried about the breaking of U.S. immigration law. He condemned the organizers of Project Minuteman as “vigilantes” even though they have broken no law and pledge not to do so. An hour or two later, Mr. Bush welcomed to his Texas ranch a man who insults the United States for its immigration policy and leads a government that routinely flouts U.S. immigration law.
Mexican President Vicente Fox hit a trifecta of contempt for the United States and its laws over the past week. First, he accused Americans of taking no pride in their country because the government is building fences in San Diego to keep out those who try to enter the country in defiance of the law. Next, he scoffed at the concern of U.S. authorities that terrorists may be crossing the U.S. border. Then, he vowed to stamp out the work of Project Minuteman and other efforts by Americans to protect their country. When Sen. Jon Kyl of Arizona told Mr. Fox to show “a little less disdain for the rule of law north of the border,” he was being only too polite. Nevertheless, Mr. Bush welcomed Mr. Fox to his home.
It’s worth reviewing how we got here. First, the Bush administration has failed to do all it could do, and should do, to curtail illegal immigration. The most recent analysis, out this week from the Pew Hispanic Center, suggests that 10.3 million undocumented aliens live in the United States, up 23 percent from the estimated 8.4 million who were here only four years ago. Most are Mexicans. This has happened in large part because Mr. Bush seems not to be concerned about the growing tide of illegal immigration. He declined to provide in his 2006 budget for hiring the 2,000 additional border agents he promised in the intelligence bill he signed in December. Mr. Bush wants to hire only 210.
Meanwhile, the Mexican government has engaged in an unprecedented campaign to encourage the breaking of U.S. law. As we pointed out in January, the Mexican government publishes and distributes pamphlets instructing would-be illegals on how to evade detection at the border, and how to lie low once they’re here. All the while, Mr. Fox continues a high-decibel campaign of rhetorical contempt for U.S. law.
Amid this chaos, states, local governments and citizen groups have responded. In Arizona, whose illegal population has grown fastest, a citizen initiative called Proposition 200 passed with a solid majority in November to place curbs on the distribution of public benefits to illegals. Many Hispanic citizens voted for it. Now, Project Minuteman — a border-monitoring effort slated to begin April 1 — has swollen to more than a thousand volunteers with 30 private planes to monitor activity on the border 24 hours a day, reporting what they find to the Border Patrol.
Mr. Bush’s description of the Minutemen as vigilantes is a misreading of American history. The vigilantes were a lynch mob. The Minutemen are an expanded version of the Neighborhood Watch programs popular in many American cities. It’s sad to see an American president roll out a royal welcome to a foreign dignitary so openly contemptuous of U.S. law, while simultaneously condemning Americans who are trying to help duly constituted authorities enforce the law.