Posted on July 21, 2005

Border Chief Reaches Out to Volunteers

Jeremiah Marquez, Newsday (NY), July 20

LOS ANGELES — The top U.S. border enforcement official said Wednesday that his agency is exploring ways to involve citizen volunteers in creating “something akin to a Border Patrol auxiliary” — a significant shift after a high-profile civilian campaign this spring along the Arizona-Mexico border.

Customs and Border Protection Commissioner Robert C. Bonner told The Associated Press that his agency began looking into citizen involvement after noting how eager volunteers were to stop illegal immigration.

“We value having eyes and ears of citizens, and I think that would be one of the things we are looking at is how you better organize, let’s say, a citizen effort,” Bonner said.

He said that could involve training of volunteers organized “in a way that would be something akin to a Border Patrol auxiliary.”

Bonner characterized the idea of an auxiliary as “an area we’re looking at,” and a spokeswoman said it hadn’t been discussed yet with top Homeland Security officials.

“This is what we need to study,” said Bonner, who was in Los Angeles to discuss port security. He said questions such as what kind of authority volunteers might be given — for example, would they be deputized to make arrests — would have to be answered.

Until now, Border Patrol officials have generally criticized civilian efforts to police the nation’s borders, saying that was the job of trained law enforcement officers. President Bush has also expressed opposition to border “vigilantes.”

But in April, hundreds of volunteers converged on a 23-mile stretch of the Arizona-Mexico border, and the Minuteman Project generated international attention.

The following month, Bonner told Congress that if the government were to “better and more effectively harness the citizen volunteers,” it would need to provide “some insights, possibly even training.”