May 20, 2004

Vigilantes in the War on Terrorism/ Immigration

by PG

From Voice of America: Citing post 9/11 concerns about the passage of undocumented persons into the United States, Americans along the U.S.-Mexico border have organized to check the flow.

Some ranchers have armed themselves and detained illegal immigrants on their land. The ranchers say the migrants have damaged their property.
Among other groups on the prowl are private citizens organized under the name "Civil Homeland Defense," a group based in the Old West mining town of Tombstone.

As generally happens with vigilantes, these groups are not receiving support from the government. The chief of the Tucson Border Patrol district worries about having them detain people, while agents in the field are concerned about the safety of private citizens who attempt to tangle with potentially dangerous border-crossers.

Chris Simcox, who started Tombstone's Civil Homeland Defense, was arrested last year for carrying a firearm on national park land, convicted on two federal misdemeanor counts and now is barred for carrying a gun during his two-year probation. The experience seems to have turned Simcox, editor of Tombstone's weekly newspaper into a bit of a tinfoil-hat man.

Mr. Simcox claims the arresting officers targeted him because of his political activism and he says he now sees the government as a possible enemy rather than as an ally in the fight to secure the nation's borders.
I don't deny that some arrests may be politically motivated, but to regard the U.S. government as a "possible enemy" in border security borders on idiocy.

The legal issue I see in this story is whether Americans, not officially deputized by federal, state or local government, can give themselves the power to take action against citizens of another country when those aliens are breaking U.S. law.

Simcox maintains that his group merely identifies problem areas and notifies the authorities so official law enforcement can do the apprehensions, but the Civil Homeland Defense is likely to cross over from neighborhood watchdog to vigilante. By carrying firearms, they enable themselves to use the threat of force to keep migrants from trying to flee, and such a threat is viewed by some as being properly the prerogative of government. This is particularly so for an organized threat of force, in which the people brandishing firearms are not acting in direct self-defense, but instead are seeking out law-breakers.

The ranchers who detain illegal immigrants have a better claim to the self-defense argument: just as a homeowner with a firearm might brandish it to keep a trespasser or burglar from fleeing, ranchers arguably have the same power over their vast properties. On the other hand, I suspect this is selective enforcement of property rights; people not perceived by the ranchers as illegals are probably permitted to move about without fear of being held at gunpoint.

A common complaint against the Bush Administration's handling of post-9/11 America is that the president hasn't asked for much sacrifice. Aside from having to send our men and women of the armed forces overseas, Americans otherwise can be fairly impervious to the demands of war.

Through deficit spending, Bush even has avoided forcing us to pay for military action (the payment will come due after he has left office). Congress passed tax cuts during what is supposed to be a time of war -- possibly a first in U.S. history. We haven't had to stop driving gas-guzzlers, even though decreasing our dependence on Middle East oil could free us to demand more from countries like Saudi Arabia.

We haven't even seen a substantive initiative like Kennedy's Peace Corps, in which large numbers of people voluntarily give up the comforts of American life in order to improve the condition of impoverished nations. Aside from driving a hybrid vehicle -- which I would have done even before 9/11 -- I haven't contributed anything to helping us win the war on terrorism. And while some might be embarrassed by such an admission, I frankly don't see what I should be doing.

People like Chris Simcox, on the other hand, are shouldering some of the burden of maintaining the security of our borders, which is surely a large element in preventing future terrorist attacks on American soil. Yet the VOA headline and the title of this post label them with the negative term "vigilante," because the government doesn't want their help. What's a patriotic man to do?

May 20, 2004 11:05 AM | TrackBack

Isn't this a failure on the part of the Federal government? But that doesn't justify the actions of these individuals. What if the same activities took place along the even longer northern border with Canada? Or if those along the coasts launched their boats with spyglasses in hand to protect against those coming by sea? If the Federal government can't afford to do the job, at least it can deputize some of these individuals so that violations of human and constitutional rights by them can be better addressed and enforced. Whether it is called self-defense or self-help, what these individuals can lawfully do is limited. But some will surely overstep the bounds.

Posted by: Shag from Brookline at May 20, 2004 11:20 AM

Many of these groups have unsurprising connections to white supremacist groups, and many of the individual members are not as "local" as they would like you to believe. Most truly local residents in that part of the country get along with their Mexican and Hispanic neighbors and friends quite well and are horrified at the reputation they've gained because of these groups.

Meanwhile, the civil rights community in the region has reacted quite aggressively to the vigilante tactics. Civil lawsuits have been filed against a few ranchers and organizations on theories of false imprisonment, assault and battery, and intentional infliction of emotional distress.

Posted by: UCL at May 25, 2004 03:09 PM

You people are effeminate cowards who have no idea that we are the government and don't need permission to protect our country -our borders or our private property -what you believe in is commercial communism and would sit by idly and let illegal gang bangers gang band your wife and daughters because you are paralyzed with the fear of being called -gasp-racist or a myriad of other labels the enemy castigates you with. Cowards.

Posted by: Chris Simcox at September 19, 2004 07:09 PM
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