Homeland Security officials backed off an idea to form a civilian border patrol, with spokespeople quickly batting down an uproar Thursday caused by the department’s border commissioner the day before.
By Thursday morning, the agency produced a statement distancing itself from comments the day before by one of its top border officials that he wanted to look into forming a civilian border auxiliary.
“We are aware of Customs and Border Protection Commissioner (Robert) Bonner’s comments yesterday; however, the Department of Homeland Security has not received any specific details of the idea that the Commissioner raised,” the agency said in a statement.
“There are currently no plans by the Department of Homeland Security to use civilian volunteers to patrol the border—that job should continue to be done by the highly-trained, professional law enforcement officials of the Border Patrol and its partner agencies.”
Bonner told The Associated Press he got the idea after seeing how enthusiastically people joined the Minuteman Project to report illegal entrants to federal officials. The project started in Cochise County last April and armed volunteers watched the border south of Bisbee for a month, reporting illegal entrants to the U.S. Border Patrol and protesting the wide-open border.
The change in plans Thursday bothered some Minuteman members.
“It’s disappointing that we’re at a point in America now that the government discourages the people from being involved,” said Mitch Geiger, operations director for the Minuteman Civil Defense Corps in Arizona.
Bonner, along with U.S. officials from President Bush to Border Patrol Tucson Sector chief Michael Nicley, had criticized the Minuteman Project from the onset, with Bonner asking at one point for citizens not to interfere with his agents’ work, saying ordinary Americans weren’t qualified for what can be a dangerous task.
Whether he changed his mind isn’t known. Customs and Border Protection spokespeople in Washington referred questions to the Department of Homeland Security statement.