Tuesday, November 26, 2002

Investigate vigilantes

The expansion of citizen militias on the border should move Congress to act.

Had Congress and the federal government been paying more attention, perhaps the militia groups that are boiling over in Southern Arizona would not exist. These vigilante groups have arisen largely from the lack of leadership, policy and law enforcement coming from Congress on the issue of illegal immigration.

Now, Arizona's elected officials at the state and national level would like to have a congressional hearing on the problems along the border.

Raúl Grijalva, U.S. Rep.-elect, wants the hearings because the "potential for violence is escalating and I think the whole situation has to be investigated."

There is no question that violence is increasing and that the porous border is inadequately staffed by the U.S. Border Patrol.

In recent months, illegal entrants have been killed while crossing, not only by the weather, but by bandits exploiting their vulnerability. So far, nothing - not the prospect of death, hot weather and dehydration, hate groups, low wages or the likelihood of employment in menial jobs where they are free to be abused in anonymity - has stopped the flow, which indicates the solution is far from simple.

Obviously, congressional hearings to address this complex issue are long overdue.

When a state is besieged by the problems and deaths of illegal entrants as well as the presence of hate groups who believe they are entitled to their vigilante methods, the danger to residents and border crossers increases. So-called frontier justice may be an entertaining notion in dime store Westerns, but the reality is far from entertaining.

In the latest protect-the-border incarnation, the publisher of the tiny Tombstone Tumbleweed is calling for citizen staffing of a border militia to patrol the border "until the issue of the invasion is resolved."

He wants any new group that heeds his call to join with two other similar groups, the American Border Patrol and Ranch Rescue. Both those groups have been identified by the Southern Poverty Law Center as hate groups.

Chris Simcox, publisher of the Tombstone Tumbleweed, says he has received more than 1,000 e-mails in support of his plan and has 40 people willing to join the patrols. Though he distances himself from the "hate" label of the groups he would emulate, he cannot escape the same designation. A vigilante group by any other name is still a vigilante group.

What's more, Simcox appears to consider the entrants as something less than human. He told the Tucson Citizen that it is fun and easy to scare illegal entrants. People who decide to join him would have "fun" scaring the immigrants, he said.

For too long, Congress has remained evasive on the issue of illegal immigration. That hundreds die in the process, that some are hunted down by zealous outlaws, has had little impact on the nation's lawmakers.

Now that groups like those of Chris Simcox are proliferating and threatening the safety of the entire border region, Congress must reconsider its enforcement procedures. Law enforcement cannot be relinquished to hate mongers.

The growth of the vigilante movement must act as an impetus for congressional action. Emphasis must be placed not only on better enforcement but also on a workable guest-worker law and the elimination of groups like those Simcox is hoping to inspire.