Border and Community Vigilantism – by Stephen Lendman
Founded by long-time human rights activist/former baseball executive Enrique Morones in 1986, Border Angels.org tries to save lives by “stop(ping) unnecessary deaths of individuals traveling through the Imperial Valley desert (and mountain) areas….surrounding San Diego County, as well (locations) around the” US-Mexican border.
Extreme heat and cold conditions take lives. Desert summer temperatures reach 127 degrees so water is crucial to survive. Volunteers provide it throughout the spring and summer months, in violation of US law. In fall and winter, life-saving stations are maintained in mountain areas, providing warm clothes, food, and water.
A recent article covered Obama’s immigration agenda, accessed through the following link:
It discussed the National Network for Immigrant and Refugee Rights (NNIRR) recent report on repressive immigrant policing. It accused Washington and growing numbers of states of running “a brutal system of immigration control and policing that criminalizes immigration status, normalizes the forcible separation of families, destabilizes communities and workplaces, and fuels widespread civil rights violations.”
It also fuels racial discrimination and hate violence against anyone perceived to be foreign, especially people of color, notably from south of the border. They risk cruel and unusual punishment, even death, NNIRR reporting at least two migrant fatalities daily, and for every body found “at least ten others are believed to have disappeared.”
On April 30, 2010, Arizona Governor Jan Brewer signed SB 1070, Support Our Law Enforcement and Safe Neighborhoods Act, an unprecedented anti-immigrant measure, portending others, including from Washington. It legalized unchecked police racial profiling of anyone suspected of being undocumented, criminalizing them as trespassers, and subjecting them to misdemeanor or, at times, felony charges.
It jeopardizes the health, welfare and safety of immigrants by giving police authority to stop anyone for any reason, question their residency legitimacy, and demand proof of legal entry or citizenship, without which anyone may be arrested, fined, jailed, and/or deported without cause, habeas or due process rights.
It requires immigrants to carry authorization papers. Not doing so is a crime. It legitimizes illegal searches and seizures on streets, in vehicles, at work, in stores, at school, places of worship, or at home any hour of the day or night. Since 2005, state legislatures throughout the country enacted over 1,300 anti-immigrant measures, violating civil liberty protections.
Under South African apartheid, pass laws segregated blacks from whites, restricted their movements, required pass books be carried at all times, and produced on demand or face arrest and prosecution. Evolving from the 18th and 19th centuries until their 1986 repeal, they restricted entry to cities, forcibly relocated blacks, denied them most public amenities, many forms of employment, and became apartheid’s most hated symbol.
Apartheid is the worst form of racism. Militarized borders and communities are the worst form of apartheid, targeting people of color unjustly, subjecting them to persecution, violence, incarceration, deportation or death. Yet it’s spreading across America.
On December 31, New York Times writer Julia Preston headlined, “Political Battle on Illegal Immigration Shifts to States,” saying:
SB 1070 began it, “even though a federal court suspended central (statute) provisions….” Led by Republicans, a new “wave of state measures (aim) at cracking down on illegal immigration.” According to Law Professor Kris Kobach, “States will push ahead regardless of the Ninth Circuit. A lot of people recognize that the district judge’s decision is very much open to dispute.”
In early January, at least five states began a “coordinated effort to cancel automatic (US) citizenship for children born in this country to illegal immigrant parents,” an unprecedented move. Opponents call it unconstitutional, saying Washington, not states, must decide. Nonetheless, passage seems likely after Republicans gained over 690 state legislative seats in November, giving them their strongest state representation since the 1920s.
State representative Daryl Metcalfe (R. PA) said the measure’s goal is to eliminate “an anchor baby status, in which an illegal alien invader comes into our country and has a child on our soil that is granted citizenship automatically.” Yet judicial 14th Amendment interpretations guarantee birthright citizenship so denying it may take a federal law, Supreme Court decision or constitutional amendment.
According to state representative Randy Terrill (R. OK):
“The federal government’s failure to enforce our border has functionally turned every state into a border state. This is federalism in action. The states are stepping in and filling the void left by” federal government inaction, delayed but not halted. In Oklahoma, Terrill said he’ll introduce “Arizona plus” legislation, including provisions to seize vehicles and property used to transport or harbor illegal immigrants.
Among states likely to introduce Arizona-like bills are Oklahoma, Georgia, Mississippi, Nebraska, Pennsylvania and South Carolina. Expect more to follow, pushing Washington to enact federal legislation, likely harsher than currently envisioned though less extreme than states.
Georgia may bar undocumented students from all public universities. Nathan Deal, the newly elected Republican governor plans to sign these measures even though the Georgia Farm Bureau, representing big growers, opposes barring immigrant farm workers, regardless of immigration status. Their issue, of course, is cheap (near-slave) labor.
Nonetheless, immigrant advocacy groups are concerned. According to Tony Yapias, Proyecto Latino de Utah Director, “These laws are creating resentment within the Latino community that is going to last for decades.” A combination of pressure and momentum clearly is negative, especially with high unemployment likely to continue for years.
On March 13, New York Times writer Julia Preston headlined, “State Legislatures Slow on Immigration Measures,” saying:
Despite earlier pledges, lack of consensus slowed, but hasn’t stopped, Republican controlled legislatures from advancing bills to penalize undocumented immigrants.
“No state has passed a law that replicates (Arizona’s). Still, immigrant advocates (admit) debate has clearly shifted in favor of tougher enforcement.”
So far, bills have been introduced in Florida, Kansas, Oklahoma and South Carolina” despite business opposition in some states. As a result, tough bills died in Colorado and Nebraska. Utah passed a new immigration law, omitting Arizona’s most controversial provisions, and Texas Rep. Aaron Pena drafted a measure to create the Texas Commission on Immigration and a guest worker program.
With or without new legislation, undocumented immigrants, especially Latinos, remain persecuted for political advantage like Muslims are targeted in the “war on terror.”
Common Myths about Immigrants
Border Angels.org explains them:
(1) Immigrants don’t want to learn English.
In fact, English proficiency among new arrivals mirrors that of early 20th century European immigrants. First generation ones have low rates, but 91% of second generation ones and 97% of third generation ones are fluent or nearly so.
(2) Immigrants don’t pay taxes.
False. From one-half to three-fourths of arrivals pay state and federal taxes, including Social Security and Medicare payroll deductions. They also pay property, sales and other taxes, contributing their fair share like other workers.
(3) Immigrants increase crime.
In fact, they commit fewer crimes than native born Americans. Moreover, Harvard sociologist Robert Sampson found that first generation immigrants are 45% less likely to commit violent crimes than Americanized third generation descendants.
(4) Immigrants take jobs from Americans.
False. A recent Pew Hispanic Center study showed that “Rapid increases in the foreign-born population at the state level are not associated with negative effects on the employment of native-born workers.” Immigrants often take jobs others don’t want.
(5) Immigrants are a drain on America’s economy.
In fact, they provide a net benefit. CATO Institute and the President’s Council of Economic Advisors research show that, on average, immigrants pay a net $80,000 more in taxes than they collect in government services. For college-educated ones, it’s $198,000. Moreover, according to the American Farm Bureau, without guest workers, the US economy would lose about $9 billion annually in agricultural production and 20% of current exports.
(6) Undocumented immigrants burden America’s healthcare system.
False. Federal, state and local governments spend about $1.1 billion annually for undocumented immigrants, aged 18 – 64, or about $11 in taxes per US household. In contrast, total 2000 healthcare costs for non-elderly adults were $88 billion. New arrivals use less, not more, services because they’re healthier than their native born counterparts.
America’s Militarized Borders
Reform Immigration for America.org says border militarization isn’t immigration reform. Yet in May, Obama agreed to spend $500 million and send another 1,200 troops to police southwestern areas. Republicans want more. John McCain asked for 6,000, 3,000 for Arizona alone.
Yet Center for Strategic and International Studies domestic security specialist, Rick Nelson, said more troops can’t contain “an overwhelming change that will change the dynamics on the border.” At best, it’s symbolic. At the end of the day, the face of border security will still be Customs and Border Protection, the law enforcement community. “It’s not going to be the National Guard” or federal troops.
In June 2006, NNIRR issued a report titled, “Militarization and Impunity at the Border,” explaining the resulting human rights crisis. Key findings included:
— letting federal and local officials act with impunity;
— systematic enforcement violations with no evaluation of the harm done to victims;
— regional and community destabilization;
— border environment and natural habitat harm;
— enhanced racial profiling; and
— unconstitutional detentions and other draconian state and local policies and laws, eroding human rights and civil liberties.
Militarization doesn’t work, yet billions are being spent on enforcement, supplemented by white supremacists like vigilante Minutemen. Founded in October 2004, the Minuteman Project.com web site calls itself “a multi-ethnic immigration law enforcement advocacy group operating within the law to support enforcement of the law.”
In September 2010, the Southern Poverty Law Center’s (SPLC) Sonia Scherr said after “five turbulent years,” the Minuteman Civil Defense Corps (MCDC), the largest armed border control group, disbanded, in part for not wanting legal responsibility for its volunteers’ actions. However, according to President Carmen Mercer, individual chapters may keep operating independently to continue MCDC’s work, adding that “the death of the (organization) is greatly exaggerated.”
MCDC is an offshoot of the Minuteman Project that brought hundreds of white supremacists to the US/Mexico border along with National Alliance neo-Nazis. Many subscribe to the “Aztlan” or “reconquista” fantasy that Mexico wants to reconquer the US Southwest by encouraging illegal immigration, possibly to take up arms and fight.
Before disbanding, MCDC grew to 74 chapters in nearly 30 states with about 12,000 members, urged on by Mercer to “forcefully engage….criminals” who try crossing into America without documentation. She reported willing support, saying:
“It was obvious that many had decided to return to the border who had tired of the sometimes futile watch and observe methods. It showed me that people are not willing to be silenced anymore. It also showed me that people will be less likely to follow the rules of engagement in a desperate attempt to stop the criminals who violate our borders every day. This is not what we want and we cannot take the responsibility for this.”
In past emails to supporters, she told them to man the border “locked and loaded” – in other words, act lawlessly to interdict and assault Latino immigrants.
The Great Wall of Mexico: America’s Border Fence
In November 2005, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) launched the Secure Border Initiative (SBI), a multi-year, multi-billion dollar program to interdict Latinos trying to enter America. The system consists of strategically placed multiple barriers, separating West and Southwest America from Mexico, including Operation Gatekeeper in California, Operation Safeguard in Arizona, and Operation Hold-the-Line in Texas.
Supporters say it slows but doesn’t stop Latino immigration. Opponents call it ineffective, inappropriately jeopardizing their health and safety as well as causing environmental and animal habitat destruction. Completed areas are mainly in California, Arizona and New Mexico. By early 2009, nearly 600 miles were finished. Texas construction is still ongoing.
Eventually to span the 1,951 US/Mexico border, the (20-foot high) fence consists of short physical walls that stop and start, secured in between by “virtual fence” state-of-the-art motion sensors, video cameras, other security electronics, helicopters with forward-looking infrared (FLIR) scopes, drones, Border Patrol agents, National Guard troops, and vigilante groups acting lawlessly on their own.
In March 2010, Obama halted the “virtual fence” expansion, saying funds for it would go for upgrading current border technology. On January 14, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) cancelled the five year-old project (called SBI-Net) because it “does not meet current standards for viability and cost effectiveness.” Replacing it will be less expensive technology already being used for surveillance.
The MCDC, its 74 chapters now operating independently, took its name from the original “ready in a minute men,” dating from the mid-1600s when volunteers trained to be first on the scene to defend communities in case of attack. Today’s minutemen and other vigilante groups are for offense, not defense, defending white supremacy and racial hate against impoverished, desperate Latinos here because NAFTA and DR-CAFTA trade laws destroyed their ability to survive at home.
They’re supported by racial hate groups like the Federation for American Immigration Reform. It lobbies Congress for repressive laws, border and homeland crackdowns, and the right of corporate predators to exploit those here freely as virtual indentured labor.
In contrast, Border Action Network (BAN) “works with immigrant and border communities in Arizona to ensure” human rights and civil liberties are upheld. Its 12 defining principles include “permanent residency, civil and constitutional rights, worker rights, human mobility, family unification, education, health care, healthy communities, dignified housing, civic participation, culture and language, (and) dignity, respect and equality.”
In November 2006, it was involved in establishing the US-Mexico Border and Immigration Task Force new four-state “border vision” that integrates security with human and civil rights, accountability, community security and regional integration. In November 2008, it released a report with over 70 recommendations, later refining it mainly in three prioritized areas:
— accountability and oversight of border and immigration enforcement;
— community security and prevention of border violence; and
— infrastructure and ports of entry.
Working jointly with BAN are the Border Network for Human Rights (BNHR) and the US/Mexico Border and Immigration Task Force (BTF). All three groups share a common vision for justice, dignity, security and the rule of law. A separate Reform Immigration for Texas Alliance (RITA) initiative aims “to fix America’s broken immigration system with fair, humane and sensible policies that foster America’s strength, security and prosperity.”
Numerous other groups throughout the country also support human and civil rights for immigrants and refugees, including the Chicago-based Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights (ICIRR). Like similar groups, it promotes “the rights of immigrants and refugees to full and equal participation in the civic, cultural, social, and political life of our diverse society,” precisely opposite of vigilante groups endorsing exclusion, violence and white supremacy.
One group called the Concerned Citizens of the United States began circulating about 1,300 names and detailed information of alleged undocumented immigrants to media outlets, law enforcement agencies, state and federal authorities, calling for immediate action to deport them.
Another organization is called Americans for Legal Immigration (ALIPAC.us). Its president, William Gheen, expressed support for Tea Party racism and repressive laws like Arizona’s SB 1070. On May 27, 2009, it attacked Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor for her membership in the National Council of La Raza (NCIR.org), the largest national Latino organization for nondiscriminatory immigration policy, civil and human rights, equal justice, education, employment, housing, and health care for all Americans. It called La Raza a “racist group.”
A fairly new group called Patriots Coalition.com (for God and Country) opposes immigration amnesty and other humane immigrant policies, calling on “all Americans and legal residents to assist appropriate law enforcement agencies (to report) all suspicious activity (and) bring illegal immigration under control.”
United for a Sovereign America (USA) calls itself “American patriots for border security and comprehensive interior enforcement,” highlighted in a December 30 posting headlined, “Illegal aliens are illegal and alien,” saying their presence is a crime in clear racist language.
One member, speaking for herself, Lynne Stevens, condones killing immigrants. Interviewed by “Feathered Bastard” columnist Stephen Lemons on blogs.Phoenix New Times.com, she said:
“I have a .22 which is for eliminating people down at the border. I have a .22 rifle which is for plinking them off at longer distances.” She calls undocumented immigrants “fair game,” adding “If you’re standing on the wrong spot on the border while I’m down there eliminating one of them, you don’t want to be around.”
A Final Comment
Many other racists share Stevens’ views, whether or not they’d kill or commit other violent acts. In a Spring 2010 Intelligence Report, Southern Poverty Law Center Director Mark Potok headlined, “Rage on the Right,” saying:
“The radical right caught fire last year….ignit(ing) an explosion of new extremist groups and activism across the nation.” Record numbers of hate groups reached “almost 1,000….Furious anti-immigrant vigilante groups soared by nearly 80%, adding some 136 new groups during 2009.”
Radicalization proliferates everywhere, targeting government as well as undocumented immigrants. The common thread in much of their agenda is racism, pure hate for people who “don’t look like us,” as some state.
Hate group numbers have been increasing for years, rising 54% from 2000 – 2008, “driven largely by an angry backlash against non-white immigration….” So-called “nativist extremist” groups go further than “mere advocacy of restrictive immigration policy to actually confront or harass suspected immigrants.”
Hundreds of them exist, nearly all since spring 2005. Comprising the radical right, they include racist skinheads, white supremacists, vigilantes of all types, and so-called “patriots,” advocating hate and direct action, at times violent.
Border and other vigilantism is in vogue, proliferating under a Black president, during economic hard times when states endorse anti-immigrant measures. They’re likely also encouraged by the Tea Party’s ascendency, inflammatory media reports, and right-wing racist politicians. The combination portends tougher times ahead, a greater cross to bear for people already persecuted by xenophobic hate.
All Americans were once immigrants. It’s high time newcomers were embraced like early arrivals in colonial times. They were welcomed and helped, not spurned the way Latinos and other people of color are today. It’s a sad testimony to today’s America, repressive at home and belligerent abroad against people who “aren’t like us.” Imagine the difference under leaders like them.
Stephen Lendman lives in Chicago and can be reached at email@example.com. Also visit his blog site at sjlendman.blogspot.com and listen to cutting-edge discussions with distinguished guests on the Progressive Radio News Hour on the Progressive Radio Network Thursdays at 10AM US Central time and Saturdays and Sundays at noon. All programs are archived for easy listening.