Skip to comments.Critics Decry Yuma, Arizona's 'Vigilante' Crackdown
Posted on 10/14/2003 6:25:38 PM PDT by GoRepGo
Critics Decry Yuma, Arizona's 'Vigilante' Crackdown
By Jon E. Dougherty
October 14, 2003
(CNSNews.com) - Immigration reform organizations are criticizing a resolution adopted by the Yuma, Ariz., County Board of Supervisors condemning "vigilante" civilian groups that voluntarily patrol the U.S.-Mexico border.
Supervisors recently voted unanimously to adopt a decree expressing their opposition to the civilian border groups, some of which have been operating in Yuma County. The goal of the civilian groups is to deter aliens from illegally crossing into the U.S.
The handful of groups, which include organizations like Ranch Rescue and Arizona-based Civil Homeland Defense, usually conduct their patrols on private property. Often, volunteers conduct patrols while armed.
In passing their resolution, however, supervisors said it was the job of the U.S. Border Patrol and its specially trained agents to police the nation's borders. Also, they said the public in Yuma County was becoming fed up with the civilian groups.
At the same time, Supervisor Lucy Shipp suggested that the board send a copy of the resolution, along with a letter to the Border Patrol, sheriff's department and county attorney's office, asking them to more aggressively deal with the illegal immigration problem, according to the Yuma Sun.
"It would bring their attention to what's happening down here - that people have kind of had it with all this," Shipp said. "[Vigilante justice] isn't the answer, the answer is to have those responsible - the Border Patrol - to step up and see what they can do in addition to what they are already doing."
But immigration reform groups, as well as some civilian border group leaders, said the federal government has largely failed in its mission to protect U.S. borders from what they call an "invasion" of illegal migrants. They say the formation of the civilian groups is a response to the public's growing frustration over Washington's inability to stem widespread illegal immigration.
"Yuma County can pass all the resolutions condemning so-called vigilante groups it wants," Craig Nelson, a spokesman for Friends of Immigration Law Enforcement, told CNSNews.com. "But, as we immigration moderates have been saying for years, as long as the federal government continues to wink at illegal immigration and allow special interest groups, rather than the will of the American people, to determine immigration policy, we can expect strong grassroots reactions against massive law-breaking."
"Citizen groups are taking matters into their own hands because the government is simply refusing to enforce the immigration law," said Mark Krikorian, head of the Center for Immigration Studies, a Washington, D.C.-based think tank that supports a reduction in legal and illegal immigration.
"It's not merely a matter of border enforcement; as any Border Patrol agent will tell you. What they do is only one part of a broader effort needed to stem the flow," said Krikorian. "What is lacking is enforcement of the immigration law inside the country, especially by denying jobs to illegals. And neither Congress nor the [Bush] administration has any intention of allowing the law to be enforced, so sneaking across the border will remain an attractive option for people in Mexico."
The Yuma County supervisors' largely symbolic decree comes on the heels of a July 31 incident in which a group of illegal migrants was held at gunpoint in Gadsden. It also follows news that a local citizens border group was being formed.
"More than anything else, [the resolution] is a message to the residents of Yuma County, letting them know where we stand on this issue," said Supervisor Tony Reyes, the Yuma Sun reported.
Despite the supervisors' unanimous backing, not everyone at the meeting approved of the resolution.
"We believe that any resolution addressing the current border situation must address the responsibilities inherent to our Constitution - that the federal government protect our national borders," said Mary Melchionne of the People for the USA, according to the Sun.
Noting that the flow of illegal immigrants must be stopped, Melchionne also placed the onus for doing so on Washington.
"It is the failure of the federal government in performing this constitutional duty and the failure of our elected leaders to live up to their sworn oath to protect against all enemies, foreign or domestic, that has made private citizens feel it necessary that they patrol our border areas to protect themselves and their property," Melchionne said.
Nelson agreed. "If Yuma County is so fond of resolution-passing, why don't they pass one condemning the Bush administration for its utter failure to enforce immigration law and for forcing citizens to take matters into their own hands?" he asked.
Critics of the civilian groups warn that because many members conduct operations while armed, there is the potential for violence between them and any illegal immigrants they might encounter. The critics point to the Gadsden case, as well as a separate incident in Texas in March involving Ranch Rescue members who allegedly intercepted and beat two El Salvadoran immigrants with pistols, as proof.
But supporters of the civilian border groups say no members have been convicted of any armed criminal activity. Also, they say Americans have the right to defend their land and property from any invaders.
Glenn Spencer, head of American Border Patrol, a group based in Sierra Vista, Ariz., which uses high-tech surveillance to monitor illegal alien traffic, had a different viewpoint.
Spencer told CNSNews.com he had "no problem" with the term "vigilante" because his group "does not enforce the law, and it is not a vigilante group.
"We agree that such groups should be discouraged and all laws must be obeyed, including laws against illegal entry into the United States," Spencer said.
Krikorian said the federal government ultimately would be responsible for any violence that might occur between civilian groups and illegal immigrants.
"The federal government's refusal to enforce the immigration law, and the resulting activity of independent citizen groups, is setting the stage for unnecessary confrontation or violence," Krikorian said. "The federal government will be responsible for any incident that does occur."
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