From Voice of America: Citing post 9/11 concerns about the passage of undocumented persons into the United States, Americans along the U.S.-Mexico border have organized to check the flow.
Some ranchers have armed themselves and detained illegal immigrants on their land. The ranchers say the migrants have damaged their property.
Among other groups on the prowl are private citizens organized under the name "Civil Homeland Defense," a group based in the Old West mining town of Tombstone.
As generally happens with vigilantes, these groups are not receiving support from the government. The chief of the Tucson Border Patrol district worries about having them detain people, while agents in the field are concerned about the safety of private citizens who attempt to tangle with potentially dangerous border-crossers.
Chris Simcox, who started Tombstone's Civil Homeland Defense, was arrested last year for carrying a firearm on national park land, convicted on two federal misdemeanor counts and now is barred for carrying a gun during his two-year probation. The experience seems to have turned Simcox, editor of Tombstone's weekly newspaper into a bit of a tinfoil-hat man.
Mr. Simcox claims the arresting officers targeted him because of his political activism and he says he now sees the government as a possible enemy rather than as an ally in the fight to secure the nation's borders.I don't deny that some arrests may be politically motivated, but to regard the U.S. government as a "possible enemy" in border security borders on idiocy.
The legal issue I see in this story is whether Americans, not officially deputized by federal, state or local government, can give themselves the power to take action against citizens of another country when those aliens are breaking U.S. law.
Simcox maintains that his group merely identifies problem areas and notifies the authorities so official law enforcement can do the apprehensions, but the Civil Homeland Defense is likely to cross over from neighborhood watchdog to vigilante. By carrying firearms, they enable themselves to use the threat of force to keep migrants from trying to flee, and such a threat is viewed by some as being properly the prerogative of government. This is particularly so for an organized threat of force, in which the people brandishing firearms are not acting in direct self-defense, but instead are seeking out law-breakers.
The ranchers who detain illegal immigrants have a better claim to the self-defense argument: just as a homeowner with a firearm might brandish it to keep a trespasser or burglar from fleeing, ranchers arguably have the same power over their vast properties. On the other hand, I suspect this is selective enforcement of property rights; people not perceived by the ranchers as illegals are probably permitted to move about without fear of being held at gunpoint.
A common complaint against the Bush Administration's handling of post-9/11 America is that the president hasn't asked for much sacrifice. Aside from having to send our men and women of the armed forces overseas, Americans otherwise can be fairly impervious to the demands of war.
Through deficit spending, Bush even has avoided forcing us to pay for military action (the payment will come due after he has left office). Congress passed tax cuts during what is supposed to be a time of war -- possibly a first in U.S. history. We haven't had to stop driving gas-guzzlers, even though decreasing our dependence on Middle East oil could free us to demand more from countries like Saudi Arabia.
We haven't even seen a substantive initiative like Kennedy's Peace Corps, in which large numbers of people voluntarily give up the comforts of American life in order to improve the condition of impoverished nations. Aside from driving a hybrid vehicle -- which I would have done even before 9/11 -- I haven't contributed anything to helping us win the war on terrorism. And while some might be embarrassed by such an admission, I frankly don't see what I should be doing.
People like Chris Simcox, on the other hand, are shouldering some of the burden of maintaining the security of our borders, which is surely a large element in preventing future terrorist attacks on American soil. Yet the VOA headline and the title of this post label them with the negative term "vigilante," because the government doesn't want their help. What's a patriotic man to do?