Patriots on the Borderline
Chris Simcox won’t stop fooling with his gun. He paces his tiny office, bouncing on the balls of his feet, and every 15 seconds his hands go to the gun on his belt--hiking it up, adjusting its angle, checking its safety. It’s a big gun, a two-toned .45 in a hard plastic holster, and whenever he is photographed by the media--which is often these days--Simcox makes sure the pistol is in every frame.
Simcox speaks of sovereignty, the Pledge of Allegiance and the rule of law, but his body language is all about the gun. Sooner or later he’s going to use it, he wants everybody to know, in a showdown with the illegal immigrants and Mexican drug dealers he believes are ruining the United States. “These are enemies who are wrecking our economy,” he says, his eyes shiny with emotion. “This is about national security.” If Simcox dies in a blaze of border gunfire, so be it, he says. “Damn them. That’s how much I care about my country.”
For the record:
12:00 AM, Mar. 19, 2003 For The Record
Los Angeles Times Wednesday March 19, 2003 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 1 inches; 50 words Type of Material: Correction
Immigrant registration -- The article “Patriots on the Borderline” in Sunday’s Los Angeles Times Magazine incorrectly stated that male immigrants from select countries are being forced to register with the government. In fact, the federal program requires registration of men from specified countries who entered the U.S. on temporary visas.
For The Record
Los Angeles Times Sunday April 06, 2003 Home Edition Los Angeles Times Magazine Part I Page 4 Lat Magazine Desk 1 inches; 46 words Type of Material: Correction
In the article “Patriots on the Borderline” (March 16), it was incorrectly stated that male immigrants from select countries are being forced to register with the government. In fact, the federal program requires registration of men from specified countries who entered the U.S. on temporary visas.
For The Record
Los Angeles Times Saturday April 19, 2003 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 1 inches; 48 words Type of Material: Correction
Immigrants -- In the article “Patriots on the Borderline” in the Los Angeles Times Magazine on March 16, it was incorrectly stated that immigrants constituted 13% of the American population’s increase in the 1990s. In fact, immigrants represented 45% of the nation’s population growth in that time period.
For The Record
Los Angeles Times Sunday May 04, 2003 Home Edition Los Angeles Times Magazine Part I Page 4 Lat Magazine Desk 1 inches; 39 words Type of Material: Correction
In the article “Patriots on the Borderline” (March 16), it was incorrectly stated that immigrants constituted 13% of the American population’s increase in the 1990s. In fact, immigrants represented 45% of the nation’s population growth in that time period.
Simcox would be naught but an anonymous zealot with a death wish if, in October, he hadn’t flamboyantly demonstrated the dictum that freedom of the press is best enjoyed by those who own one. At 42, he is owner, editor and publisher (and reporter, ad director and circulation manager) of the weekly Tombstone Tumbleweed, circulation 1,200. His Oct. 24 issue bore the headline: “Enough is Enough! A Public Call to Arms!” The paper invited readers to join a “Citizens Border Patrol Militia” whose function, Simcox says, will be to “shame the government into doing its job” of controlling the nation’s border with Mexico. “We need some good old-fashioned discipline in this country,” Simcox explains as he fitfully circles the one-room Tumbleweed office. “I invite someone to come up with a solution.”
The Tumbleweed doesn’t circulate beyond Tombstone, a hamlet of 1,400 amid the vastness of the southern Arizona desert about 25 miles from the border. But the Internet took Simcox’s article global, and about 100 people, he says, have since signed up to join him. Simcox says the only requirement for his Civil Homeland Defense Corps is an Arizona license to carry a concealed pistol. “That will screen out the criminals and loonies,” he says. Hundreds more people are e-mailing messages of support, he says, and “thousands” of dollars in contributions are pouring in. Simcox is vague about what exactly his volunteers will do. For the last few months, he and a handful of friends have been offering, in their spare time, to serve as private security guards for ranchers, and when his militia gets off the ground, it will probably do likewise, he says. If an illegal immigrant is found on private land, “We challenge [them], detain them for 15 minutes and evict them,” Simcox says. “We hold them any more than that and we can be charged with kidnapping.” He says he hasn’t yet had his gun out of its holster.
He has, however, attracted a lot of attention. Reporters are pouring in. Simcox can’t meet at 4 p.m. because he has an interview with the Chicago Tribune, and then another at 5 p.m. with the Frankfurter Allgemeine, a German newspaper. Perhaps predictably, two other border militias are edging into his spotlight. Ranch Rescue of Texas has been quietly organizing armed volunteers to visit private spreads around the Southwest since 2000 to repair damage caused by illegal immigrants and, less commonly, run them off.
“I have them through my property all the time, every day,” says Gary McBride, who ranches in Arizona about 30 miles north of the border. “They leave stock fences open so the cows get out. They damage water tanks. They leave behind an unbelievable amount of trash, which my cows sometimes eat and get sick. We’re damned tired of it.”
So far, no one has been reported hurt in a confrontation. Another new outfit called American Border Patrol is planning to send volunteers equipped with Webcams and satellite uplinks to the border to stream live online video of immigrants crossing illegally into the U.S. The groups differ in tactics, but all three share an apocalyptic vision of an America under siege. “We cannot let [the Mexicans] export their failures,” says Glenn Spencer, the 60-something organizer of American Border Patrol, based in Sierra Vista, Ariz. “They are a threat to our entire culture.”
None of these organizations can produce more than a handful of supporters, and an informal poll--in restaurants, gas stations and on the streets of southwest Arizona--turns up few ready to strap on a gun and join them. Illegal immigrants “come through our land all the time, but so what? They’re not doing any harm,” says Cathy, who declines to give her last name when I meet her at a Chevron station in Bisbee, four miles from the border. She then uses a popular obscenity to describe Simcox and others like him.
Joanne Young, who tends bar at the Crazy Horse Saloon in Tombstone, says “Simcox doesn’t have 10 people in this town on his side.” Tombstone lives on tourism, she says, “and visitors are down this year from last. People are calling and saying, ‘I don’t want to bring my children there; it isn’t safe.’ ”
Still, few in Arizona dismiss the border militiamen. While reporters are drawn by the photogenic firearms, fiery Rambo quotes and a morbid certainty that sooner or later somebody’s going to get killed, locals know Simcox and his allies are on to something. In their half-baked, xenophobic, scary-screwball way, they’ve identified a real problem: The U.S.-Mexico border is a disaster.
Consider the small town of Douglas, Ariz., which hunkers near the dividing line 50 miles southeast of Tombstone. Last year, the Border Patrol station there arrested an average of 150 illegal immigrants a day. That’s more than 54,000 border jumpers in a town of only 14,000 residents, and it doesn’t count the ones who get away. The total coming through might be three or five or 10 times more. Nobody knows.
What turned the stampede of illegal immigrants through this corner of Arizona was a Border Patrol policy shift in 1994. Until then, Border Patrol agents concentrated on catching illegal migrants. They’d hang back and hide behind boulders until the migrants crossed in front of them, or spend hours and even days tracking them across the desert. They chased them at high speeds through the streets and back yards of El Paso and San Diego. Agents polished their careers by catching them, and the only way to do that was to let them cross first.
In 1993, the chief of the Border Patrol’s El Paso sector, Silvestre Reyes, turned that policy on its head. He decided to put all his men right on the line to deter migrants from crossing in the first place. And he built the Border Patrol’s first Berlin Wall-type fence along El Paso’s southern border, dividing it from Ciudad Juarez. He called his new strategy Operation Hold the Line, and he measured success not by how many were caught, but, in a sense, how few. Reyes, who now represents El Paso in Congress, didn’t want any crossings at all. The Border Patrol in San Diego quickly followed suit, and the strategy of hardening the border in and near populated areas spread. As it became increasingly hard to cross the border in cities, migrants had no choice but to venture farther into the desert, where the risks are tremendous. Since the fortification of the cities, more migrants die each year on the U.S.-Mexico border than died trying to cross the Berlin Wall during its entire 28-year history.
But the strategy change also has been hard on rural Americans living near the border. All three militias have been drawn to Cochise County, Ariz., because this is the most popular new migration route. Depending on how you estimate the ratio of unlawful immigrants captured to the total who cross, it’s possible that 10 times as many pass through Cochise County--a million or more--as there are Americans living there.
“They come through town here sometimes like locusts, taking anything that isn’t nailed down,” says Lynn Kartchner, who owns a down-at-the-heels safe, alarm and gun store in Douglas. Though Kartchner’s insect allusion is harsh, it makes sense that some of the 500-odd desperately poor people scrambling through Douglas every day are sticky-fingered. To a marginal businessman like Kartchner, and to others in this economically depressed region, that may indeed feel like a plague.
“The rights of a U.S. citizen shouldn’t be contingent on where they live and how much income they’ve got,” says David Stoddard, an angry Cochise County resident. “What the Border Patrol is saying is: ‘The rights of the people in [the cities] exceed those of the ranchers.” To this, Carlos X. Carrillo, the Border Patrol’s assistant chief in Tucson, shrugs. “We go out to cover [the ranches] and we open up everybody in El Paso and San Diego to a high level of crossings,” he says.
During the summer of 2001, when President Bush and Mexican President Vicente Fox were talking about making immigration “safe and legal,” the problems of the border were Page One news. Then came 9/11 and the issue vanished, leaving people like Kartchner and McBride feeling abandoned once again, hostages to a border policy that few in power seem interested in correcting. So while the militiamen’s diagnoses are hateful and their prescriptions toxic, their presence isn’t altogether unwelcome in southern Arizona. By their very extremism they’ve found a way to attract the public’s attention away from Al Qaeda and Iraq and back to the problem in their backyard--the tide of illegal immigration.
The attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon figure in the rise of the border militias in more ways than one. Simcox and his allies talk almost as much about the terror attacks as they do about Mexican campesinos hogging American jobs and welfare checks. The Border Patrol says it hasn’t yet detected any evidence of Middle Eastern terrorists trying to sneak through the southern border. But last year, the Border Patrol of the Tucson district--an area the size of Minnesota--caught illegal immigrants from 51 countries. However, only 1.2% of migrants arrested are from countries other than Mexico, and only 0.2% are from outside Latin America.
At the Border Patrol station in Douglas, the agents clearly have one eye on the possibility that Al Qaeda will try to sneak in through the southern border. When migrants are captured, they’re held in three chain-link cells while agents process them for return to Mexico. It’s a dreary, fluorescent-lit scene with a world-weary air about it. The migrants sit patiently in their unlocked cages looking neither distraught nor worried. In a few hours, they’ll be politely driven back to the border, to probably try again.
The agents are relaxed and good-natured, going through an oft-repeated process neither hurriedly nor brusquely. They keep a sharp eye on their computers, though, as they run the migrants’ digital photos and index fingerprints through a computer to look for repeat border-jumpers, drug dealers and fugitives of all kinds. On the wall are photos of known coyotes, the guides who lead groups of migrants through the desert. And taped above the bank of computer terminals are six grainy photos of young Middle Eastern men with a hand-lettered sign: Suspected Terrorists. The Border Patrol has just been folded into the new Department of Homeland Security and deterring terrorism is now at least part of its rhetoric. Still, it’s hard to deny that if Osama bin Laden himself wanted to cross the desert into Arizona, he’d stand a good chance of making it.
In the militiamen’s Armageddon worldview, the United States is in a kind of liberal trance, drowsily mouthing globalist claptrap while letting hordes of shiftless, malevolent brown people sap its resources, corrupt its greatness and plot its destruction from within. While our leaky Mexican border has had its opponents for decades, Simcox, Spencer and their allies are a distinctly post-9/11 phenomenon. They’re worth getting to know because they advocate the most extreme bunker strategies in the uncertainties of the post-9/11 world. In a word, they speak for America at its most freaked out.
By his own account, Chris Simcox went a little crazy after 9/11. Once a “liberal and pacifist,” he says his worldview changed after he was mugged twice in New York many years ago by people who didn’t speak English. He moved to Los Angeles, and for 13 years he taught young children at the private Wildwood School on Washington Place, all the while growing increasingly annoyed at what he calls the liberalism and lack of discipline in Southern California, particularly toward illegal immigrants. “You see what rampant illegal immigration has done in L.A.,” he says with a visible shudder. “The gangs, the people standing on the street corners.”
Then came the terror attacks on New York and Washington, and Simcox’s equilibrium snapped. “For a while, I wouldn’t talk to anyone if they couldn’t recite the Pledge of Allegiance,” he says. “I got very aggressive about my views, like, ‘I’m not going to talk to you until you agree to talk to me about my constitutional rights.’ ” His behavior grew so wacky that he lost joint custody of his 15-year-old son. In a rage, Simcox left Los Angeles for the Arizona desert a month after 9/11. For 2 1/2 months, he camped alone among the mesquite and cactus, trying, he says, to “reinvent” himself. In that time, he says he saw five “paramilitary groups of drug dealers"--pickup trucks packed with dope and moving at walking speed, flanked by men holding automatic rifles. “I saw this with my own eyes,” he insists.
Simcox tried to join the Border Patrol and the military, he says, but was turned down because he was too old. He drifted into Tombstone, got a job at the Tumbleweed, and eventually bought it for $50,000. Simcox, who rarely sleeps more than four or five hours a night, and looks it, is vague about exactly where he’ll deploy his vigilantes or how he’ll manage them. “What I really hope is that the government wakes up and makes all this unnecessary by doing its job and sealing the border with troops,” he says. But Simcox also itches for action. “If we see one of those [drug] convoys, we’ll stand strong,” he shouts, punching his chest. “If they fire on us, we’ll fire back. We want to go up against those drug dealers.”
Twice during our hourlong conversation he refers to himself as Paul Revere. “This has gotten so big even I can’t control it,” he says. Which raises the question: What if his call brings to the border members of the 26 “state militias” he says have contacted him? What if some racist yahoo takes the “call to arms” seriously, opens fire on a group of migrants and kills someone? “I realize we’ve awakened a sleeping giant,” Simcox says, lowering his voice for the first time. “It’s on my conscience.”
And then the interview is over. Rising to go, he punches his arms into a black woolen jacket embroidered on the back with a colorful movie logo: Lost in Space.
Ranch Rescue, based in Abilene, Texas, purports not to care about immigration reform but only about respect for private property. The only assaults on property it seems to concern itself with, though, are those caused by migrants in damage to fences, pumps and water tanks. And it doesn’t take five minutes into a phone call for its coordinator, Jack Foote, to get around to some sweeping characterizations about the “pure orneriness” of Mexican immigrants and their “churlish disdain for American private property owners.” When Foote refers me to David Stoddard to articulate the problem in southwest Arizona, he’s steering me straight back to the politics of immigration and race.
David Stoddard retired in 1996 from a 27-year career with the U.S. Border Patrol. He says he knows, from long experience, that our government could seal the U.S.-Mexico border if only it had the will. Broad and compact, with a steel-gray Brylcreem haircut, Stoddard is affiliated with no organization “except the Republican Party,” but has been a regular face in TV news segments, giving voice to the concerns of the loose-knit confederation of Ranch Rescue, American Border Patrol and Simcox’s group. He meets me at the home of a friend, Ben Anderson, a retired Army colonel, in Sierra Vista. The strip-mall town serves the Army’s Fort Huachuca, 16 miles from Tombstone. Anderson, a rotund and slow-spoken, sleepy bear of a man, tells me he studied modern Arabic, “Gulfie talk,” at the Pentagon’s prestigious Defense Language Institute in Monterey. As we take seats in his living room, Anderson offers that “Islam is not a religion, it’s a cult. It’s bad.” And so we begin.
Stoddard agrees with Simcox that the Border Patrol has no hope of sealing the border. “It’s a social service organization. The current policy is catch and release. And only one in five get caught, on a good day.” Only the military has adequate muscle: Stoddard insists that 100 helicopters using infrared scopes, supported by observation posts on every hill between Brownsville, Texas, and San Diego, could effectively seal the 2,000-mile border. “Give me 2,500 troops,” he says.
“Look at the Iron Curtain,” Anderson says. “The border between the Koreas; people don’t cross that sucker.”
“It wouldn’t have to be that stringent,” says Stoddard. “Machine guns and tanks--that’s not what I’m talking about. There isn’t even a need for military patrols. Just the presence of the military in prominent locations would be the real deterrent.”
Stoddard talks a long time, displaying an impressive command of tactics and technology. Anderson, the ex-Army colonel, adds that the Posse Comitatus Act of 1878, which forbids military involvement in law enforcement, wouldn’t apply. “The military controlled the border until the Border Patrol was formed in 1924, and could again,” he says. “There was a time when the border was a law enforcement issue, but at 9/11 it became a national-security issue.”
Stoddard and Anderson produce a much-circulated clipping from the Dec. 9 Los Angeles Times saying that the U.S. plans to finance 177 checkpoints, staffed by 12,000 guards, on the borders of Afghanistan. “They can seal the Afghan border,” Stoddard barks. “But our weak-kneed politicians whine ‘Posse Comitatus’ when we want to do it here.”
In fact, the military never had responsibility for enforcing immigration law on the southern border, according to Marian Smith, staff historian of the Immigration and Naturalization Service. Troops were sent to pursue Pancho Villa during the Mexican Revolution, and were stationed near border posts during World War I to make a show of guarding against German saboteurs. But the Army never functioned as Stoddard and Anderson recommend, Smith says.
Stoddard and Anderson turn to the question of need. “National security involves culture, sovereignty and economics,” Anderson says.
“The lifeboat is full,” says Stoddard, driving a fist into the tabletop. “America is importing poverty, and there are only so many resources available. The U.S. is headed into Third World conditions.” The current rate of immigration is dangerous, he says. “Double the schools we’ll need by 2050. Double the sewage plants, water use, roads, housing.”
He collects himself and sighs. “These people crossing the border, they’re victims,” he says tiredly. “I know that. The villains are the globalists, Vicente Fox, who’s talking about nations without borders. The European Union are globalists. The multinational corporations, NAFTA [the North American Free Trade Agreement], and GATT [the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade].”
Surprised to hear him sounding like an anti-corporate World Trade Organization protester, I try to get him to explain more fully his views on globalization. Instead, Stoddard descends into a long, angry rant that begins with his own ancestors, who immigrated as Puritans in the 1600s to a place “that was founded as a Christian, English-speaking nation.”
The new immigrants, Stoddard insists, not only suck more out of the economy in welfare than they contribute in taxes, they also dilute American culture. “I am a Christian conservative,” he says. “The liberal mantra is that my beliefs, my culture, my mores are no more valid than someone who comes in from El Salvador and thinks it’s perfectly all right to have sex with 13-year-old girls.”
While I try to interpret this, he forges ahead, first about a school board in Georgia that changed the name of Christmas break to “semester break,” and then into a complaint that students in California are studying Islam, “yet Christianity is banned from the public schools.”
Turns out, the Census Bureau predicts the U.S. population will increase by 47%, not 100%, by 2050. Even in the 1990s, when more immigrants arrived than in either the 1970s or ‘80s, they constituted 13% of the American population’s increase. Immigrants now make up about 6% of the U.S. population, with naturalized citizens adding another 4%, according to the Census, though when it comes to counting illegal immigrants the numbers get slippery indeed.
Stoddard is right when he points out that in many immigrant communities, two or three families crowd into a single-family house or apartment. And he notes, correctly, that unlike immigrants from Europe or Asia, who had to cross oceans to get here, many illegal immigrants hope to work in the U.S. for a few years and then return home. Many have no intention of staying here or becoming Americans.
But as for their “sucking more out of the economy than they contribute,” Stoddard has it only partly right, according to a National Research Council study in 1997. Asked by Congress to study the question, the council found that overall, legal and illegal immigrants indeed receive more in publicly funded services than they pay in taxes. But that’s no more true for immigrants than for low-paid Americans; low wages are expensive to society as a whole. And a straight services-for-taxes calculation doesn’t tell the entire story. Whole industries--such as hospitality, textiles and agriculture--"would not exist on the same scale without immigrant workers,” the academy found. Immigrants add as much as $10 billion to the U.S. economy, the study found, mostly due to their willingness to do the kind of hard, dirty, dangerous and low-paid work Americans don’t want.
As the afternoon with Stoddard and Anderson wears on I feel further and further inside the looking glass. How odd, I think, to be lectured by conservatives in Arizona, of all places, about how the federal government isn’t doing enough. Arizona senator Barry Goldwater--father of the modern conservative movement--is buried barely 200 miles from here, in the same rocky, thorn-strewn soil. Goldwater and his GOP descendants made it their life’s mission to reduce the size and reach of the U.S. government. It was all I could do not to yell at Stoddard and Anderson: Hey, you wanted small government, and you got it.
“We’re being sacrificed on the altar of globalism!” thunders Glenn Spencer, organizer of American Border Patrol. We’re sitting in Spencer’s “command center,” a den stuffed with three computers, four television sets tuned to various news channels, a forest of peripherals, a regiment of remotes and lots of VCRs. The emblem of the CIA hangs on a wall, but Spencer, who has gray-blond hair falling over his collar and vaguely resembles William F. Buckley, says he never worked there.
Spencer’s words echo eerily, because aside from a flossy “reception area” off the kitchen, his gigantic house has hardly any furniture. The former Sherman Oaks resident is still moving in to his new place. The house, at a Sierra Vista address Spencer rarely gives out “for security reasons,” might once have been a funeral parlor. A semicircular driveway sweeps to the front door through a swath of brown earth where the lawn will someday be installed. But at the moment, Spencer and a few friends rattle around the stripped-bare rooms, giving this erstwhile mansion the feel of an overgrown clubhouse.
Spencer is retired from a career in computer-enhanced geophysical engineering. In lieu of his past, which also includes a privately financed radio show devoted to his views, it’s no surprise that his solution to the border problem relies more on high-tech electronics than firearms. His volunteers, who he says number about 100, carry GPS devices and radios. When they spot illegal immigrants, they radio Spencer, and he calls the Border Patrol. “I don’t like the idea of going out in fatigues with military-looking weapons,” Spencer says. “A lot of our people carry weapons, but we don’t take a position on that.”
Spencer’s favorite toy is not a gun; it’s a Mobile Internet Satellite Transmitter that is parked in the driveway and looks like the little car the Apollo astronauts drove around the moon. Soon, he says, volunteers with video cameras will photograph “suspected border intruders,” beam the signal to this uplink and put live streamed video on the Web. The purpose is not to identify individuals for law enforcement but to give a sense of human forms entering the country, for propaganda purposes.
“People will be able to go on the ‘net and see, live, people coming into their country illegally,” Spencer says. “They’ll be able to download a piece of software that, if there’s live video up, will put a little American flag on their screen.” Spencer is largely financing the operation out of his own pocket, and says he has invested about $100,000.
“You have big corporations who want no barriers to the making of their profit. You have the AFL-CIO that is now advocating open borders,” Spencer says, apparently in reference to the labor federation’s call, in 2000, for an amnesty on illegal immigrants and a stop to prosecuting businesses that hire them. “You have Gray Davis, who said, ‘In the future, people will look at California and Mexico as one magnificent region.’ The power elite have decided we won’t be an independent nation but are going to be folded into the global village.” He taps away at a G4 Power Macintosh and out comes the voice of former Mexican President Ernesto Zedillo speaking to the National Council of La Raza in 1997. “I have proudly affirmed that the Mexican nation extends beyond the territory enclosed by its borders,” Zedillo’s disembodied voice says, “and that Mexican migrants are an important part of it.”
“He declared war on us by migration!” Spencer says. “Mexico has one national objective: to reverse the results of the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo.” That 1848 pact, in which much of the American Southwest was ceded to the United States, is certainly a thorn to Mexican activists. Most would be surprised to hear, though, that making motel beds or picking cucumbers for minimum wage in the United States might constitute reversing the treaty.
Like Simcox, Spencer wants to shame the government into sealing the border. “Why not build a 2,000-mile fence?” he asks. “They did it in East Berlin. There was a dividing line between one way of doing things and another.” When you press him, he paraphrases a passage from a book about Mexico by Pulitzer Prize-winning author Andres Oppenheimer: “As long as historians can remember, lying and deceit have been part of the Mexican culture.”
It’s lines like this that get the militiamen accused of being racist. Raul Grijalva, a Democrat elected to Congress in November to represent a new district that runs from Tucson to Yuma, says his first official act will be to ask the FBI to investigate alleged links between the militias and white supremacist groups. “If you shine the light on the cockroaches, they don’t like it,” Grijalva said at a December press conference.
Mention racism to Spencer and he comes halfway out of his chair. “I’m not prejudiced!” he shouts. “I have a lot of Mexican friends!”
Tthe new border militiamen distinguish themselves by physically patrolling the border, but their ideas are not wildly outside the American mainstream. Pat Buchanan ran for president and has had a nice career as a pundit by saying many of the same things. A quick Google search for the Ernesto Zedillo quote finds it derisively cited by dozens of columnists and anti-immigration groups. Republican Rep. Tom Tancredo of Colorado, whom Simcox, Stoddard and Spencer call their hero, is leading the charge in Congress to put troops on the border and encourages an anti-immigrant movement that verges on being openly racist. “Consider the fact that massive immigration, combined with our own self-destructive policies of radical multiculturalism, have helped to balkanize America,” he wrote recently in the Denver Post.
When Simcox argues that government won’t stop immigration because corporations want “an unlimited supply of cheap labor,” and Stoddard says multinationals’ “sole loyalty is to the bottom line on the balance sheet,” they’re on to something. People in rural Mexico typically earn as little as $3 a day, while even the worst jobs north of the border pay twice that an hour. Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan has told Congress he wants more foreigners allowed into the U.S. because they eagerly work unattractive jobs that can neither be filled domestically nor exported. Migrants’ labor is so coveted by American hotels, restaurants, hospitals, nursing homes, builders, landscapers and farmers that those industries lobby Congress to make hiring Mexicans easier.
The militiamen are also right that the labor of migrants, whether they cross legally or not, is crucial to the Mexican economy. About 9 million of Mexico’s 97 million people live north of the border. Half of them are here illegally. The $8 billion they send to their relatives each year is, as everybody knows by now, Mexico’s third-biggest source of income after oil and tourism. Mexican President Fox calls them “the greatest asset our country has.”
Against economic forces as powerful as these, volunteer militia patrols look pretty puny. They certainly won’t stop the flow of migrants. “The main danger they pose is the rhetoric, stirring the anti-immigrant sentiment,” says Bob Moser, who tracks the groups for the Southern Poverty Law Center in Montgomery, Ala. At this particular moment in U.S. history, that kind of fear-mongering may be exactly what the country doesn’t need. After the trauma of 9/11, the country is already locked in a kind of xenophobic panic--forcing male immigrants from select countries to register with the government, holding immigrants incommunicado for months, parading them before secret courts. The new border militiamen deserve credit for reminding us how dysfunctional our southern border is, and how noxious the economic inequality of the neighbor nations. But if all they do, with their guns and rough talk, is inspire yet more fear and hatred of foreigners, they’ll have blown it.