It will be fascinating to see how the Minuteman Project, the brainstorm of California resident James Gilchrist, comes off now that President Bush has referred to the effort as a “vigilante” operation of which he disapproves. It has certainly stirred a lot of interest, pro and con.
A retired accountant, Gilchrist conceived the idea of organizing people to patrol the Arizona desert in April for illegal immigrants and report them to the Border Patrol. The project has attracted nearly 1,000 volunteers and 30 private planes.
Gilchrist says that although some of the watchers will be “responsibly armed,” they will not try to make arrests or confront anyone, but simply report illegals to the proper authorities.
The Arizona ACLU has vowed to monitor the monitors. Groups have protested Gilchrist outside his gated community.
When asked about the project last week, Bush said, “I’m against vigilantes in the United States of America. I’m for enforcing the law in a rational way.”
Bush might have jumped the gun in referring to the Minuteman Project as “vigilantes” with a negative connotation. There is nothing inherently wrong with citizens’ groups helping to enforce laws; police agencies clamor for citizen cooperation and tips all the time, especially after an especially egregious crime. It remains to be seen whether Gilchrist’s effort will be peaceful, or explosive.
As to Bush’s point about law enforcement: The problem is that immigration law is not now enforced in a rational way by the authorities, in large part because, as currently crafted, our immigration laws are not especially rational themselves.
Our immigration laws amount to efforts to repeal reality. There is honest work available in the United States for people from Mexico willing to do it. The legal-immigration quotas are unrealistically low.
The best way to reduce illegal immigration — so the Border Patrol can focus on threats like terrorists — is to expand the quotas and consider other kinds of worker programs, not to beef up enforcement with citizen amateurs.