April 26, 2005 | Commentary on Department of Homeland Security

Minutemen, or Men of the Minute?

Those who can, do. And those who can't, criticize.

Maybe that explains why some citizens -- even President Bush -- are carping at the "Minuteman Project," which has attracted volunteers nationwide in an effort to prevent illegal immigrants from entering the United States.

An April 11 editorial in The New York Times is a good example. The Times' describes the Minutemen as "a few dozen gunslingers patrolling for illegal immigrants," and claims these civilians "would be far saner to leave the patrolling of the border to the border patrol."

Of course, that's something the Minutemen would be happy to do -- if the border patrol was actually doing the job.

It may be difficult for a person sitting behind a desk in a Manhattan skyscraper to realize, but illegal immigration is a huge and growing problem in many states. Some of us in Arizona have actually watched illegal immigrants cross the border, and we're tired of it.

The Minutemen aren't "vigilantes" out to kill people who cross the borders. They simply want to see that the law is upheld. It's not something they would have to worry about if the president and Congress had not neglected to enforce it -- the unfortunate case so far.

"We're not gunslingers," says Gray Deacon, a retiree and Minuteman volunteer. According to Deacon, while a few of the volunteers do carry arms, it's for protection against dangerous animals, including snakes, mountain lions and coyotes, all of which are common along the border.

Americans shouldn't think of these volunteers as "vigilantes." They're citizens trying desperately to protect the west from a human tide of illegals. And they're not getting as much help as they need.

The Minutemen say members of the ACLU in Arizona have actually helped some 100 illegal immigrants escape after these fugitives were reported to authorities.

On the other hand, the Minutemen merely report any illegal immigrants they spot to the border patrol. And Gray Deacon maintains that the volunteers have no physical contact with the illegals. "We are here to watch, spot, report and assist the border patrol," he says. Minutemen volunteers have even provided water, food and medical treatment to the illegal immigrants while they were waiting for the border patrol to arrive.

Furthermore, Andy Adame, spokesperson for the Tucson sector of the border patrol, says there have been no incidents where Minuteman volunteers have used their firearms to harm illegal immigrants. None.

Now, some people might think that these Minutemen and others who are trying to stop illegal immigration are racist or anti-immigration. So it's worth remembering that there's a difference between illegal and legal immigration -- although the line has been blurred somewhat by our inability to enforce the law over the years.

This isn't to say there shouldn't be any immigration. After all, our country was founded on the concept of migration and immigration. But since the founding of our nation, immigration has been restricted by laws. Too many today are crossing illegally.

The Minuteman volunteers are working alongside the border patrol in an attempt to enforce the existing immigration law, and to make a point to congress while doing so. So far, those efforts seem to be paying off. According to the Minuteman Project's Web site, border apprehensions have dropped from approximately 256 per day last April to 158 per day so far this month.

Fewer people are trying to cross because more eyes are looking for illegals. Minutemen reported 241 illegal immigrants since they started the project on April 5, including one "coyote," the term applied to people who make their living transporting illegal immigrants to different destinations throughout the west.

Anyone who doubts the importance of the Minutemen's efforts ought to spend one day in Nogales, Tombstone, Sierra Vista or Douglas, Ariz. Most people, I think, would find it surprising to see how routinely border security is flouted.

And not just by people who pose a physical threat. While visiting a nearby school district last year, for example, I saw an SUV stop on the border, just a few miles from a border-patrol checkpoint. A small girl, pink backpack in hand, got out and raced to a nearby school bus.

A principal at the girl's elementary school says she doesn't mind the fact that there are illegal children attending the school. In fact, she welcomes them. This principal had even personally driven a student to the border after school one day.

Something's wrong with this picture, especially since American taxpayers are footing the bill for these children's education.

Too many illegals cross the border daily. The Minutemen want to change that. Far from being vigilantes, these people are law-abiding citizens, who aim to see our laws enforced. Hopefully, lawmakers in Washington will ride to their defense.

Hillary Pate is an intern at The Heritage Foundation (heritage.org), a Washington-based public policy research institute. She lives in Arizona.

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Distributed nationally on the Knight-Ridder Tribune "Campus Wire"