[Editor's Note: Tomorrow at 10 am PDT, we will feature a Google Hangout conversation at C&L featuring a panel of immigration experts and advocates -- including Frank Sharry, Executive Director of America's Voice; Juanita Molina, Executive Director, Border Action Network, and Julieta Garibay from United We DREAM -- and our own David Neiwert, author of And Hell Followed With Her: Crossing the Dark Side of the American Border.]
Back in the days when he was a media darling appearing on every network – before everything would collapse in an appalling heap of criminality – Chris Simcox would promote his border-watching “Minuteman” movement as an essential component of national security because of the ominous threat that terrorists might cross over the border into the USA from Mexico.
“It is frightening to think that just one terrorist hiding among thousands of illegal immigrants who come across the border each day could easily carry chemical, biological or even nuclear materials into the U.S.,” Simcox told a reporter in 2005. “At this point, it’s not a question of ‘if’ but of ‘when.’”
Naturally, this was the entire purpose of his organization. “While officials are talking, Minutemen are acting,” said Simcox pronounced. “They need to put our money where their mouth is, and start doing something about our borders.”
Simcox also had something of a paranoid streak about the borders: “Take heed of our weapons because we’re going to defend our borders by any means necessary,” he told an audience in 2003. “There’s something very fishy going on at the border. The Mexican army is driving American vehicles — but carrying Chinese weapons. I have personally seen what I can only believe to be Chinese troops.”
For Simcox and the Minutemen, the rubric of reason for the “citizen border watches” they organized all revolved around “national security” – at least when the TV cameras were on. When they were off, it was a different story: Minutemen border watchers were fond of explaining in private to people they thought were fellow participants that the best solution to stopping “the invasion” (as they liked to call it) of Latino immigrants they hoped to catch in the act was to start shooting one or two of them.
One of them even explained it on camera once: “No, we ought to be able to shoot the Mexicans on sight, and that would end the problem,” he told a reporter. “After two or three Mexicans are shot, they’ll stop crossing the border. And they’ll take their cows home, too.”
Of course, we're still hearing the same excuses from the right:
“Border security” was just a verbal rubric pasted over the real source of these nativists’ anxieties. It was a coded phrase for the underlying intention: “Keep out the brown people.”
Seven years down the road, that reality hasn’t changed a bit. What has changed instead is an electoral landscape where it’s becoming increasingly clear that the need for comprehensive immigration reform has become inescapable, but when faced with legislation to achieve it, those same nativists and their Tea-Partying cohorts in Congress continue to revert to the same old saw: “We need to secure the border before we can pass reform.” And it still means the same old thing.
What, exactly, do they mean by “border security”? It’s hard to pin down the exact definition of a “secure border” – reflective of the fact that it is a coded phrase – but in the hands of various Congressional Republicans, what emerges is a fantasy portrait of a militarized fortress-style border with Mexico secured by a towering fence and the constant buzz of manpower patrolling it. In the immigration-reform bill passed by the Senate (but still bottled up in the House), the legislation requires construction of 700 miles of new double-walled border fence and 20,000 more Border Patrol agents to man it.
Notably, these proposals all envision such a facility along the 1,954 miles of border the United States shares with Mexico. No such fence is envisioned for 5,525 miles of border that we share with Canada – even though, when it comes to national security, we already know which border terrorists are likely to cross. And it’s not the southern one.
Of course, building a second fence two and half times as long as that proposed for the Mexico border would be outrageously expensive – especially when the latter already fits that description.
Go here to read it all.
Along the same lines, be sure to check out the interview I did with David Kortava at The Mantle in which some of the same issues are raised:
I think a lot of people really underestimate the influence and power and impact of these kinds of groups on the mainstream right. They tend to have a gravitational effect on conservatives, pulling them farther towards the right. A lot of the positions we’re seeing bandied about now as normative—particularly within the Tea Party—were the views of radical militia types back in the 1990s.
Rightwing extremism has broader impacts on society. It’s true that only something like 8 or 9 percent of hate crimes are committed by members of hate groups; the vast majority are committed by people who are otherwise considered mainstream normal kids, usually young men. But something like seventy percent of these crimes are accompanied by verbiage associated with hate groups. In other words, you have people picking up on cultural cues from the extremist right and incorporating them into their worldview, even if they aren’t necessarily adopting the broader ideology.
Anti-immigration organizations like the Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR) hand out these pseudo-academic studies suggesting that immigrants are using up taxpayer money, bringing in disease, and committing crime. While none of this true, it does produce a toxic effect on the conversation about immigration. Instead of focusing on the problem—antiquated laws—we focus on the supposed criminality of people who are themselves victims, victims both of those laws and of the economic forces compelling them to make these death-defying crossings through the desert.
Finally, you should check out my interview with Matthew Filipowicz, who as always manages to find the humorous vein in all this.
Be sure to join us tomorrow at 10 am. (Go here to RSVP for the Hangout.) And pick up a copy and read it!