Posted on September 28, 2005

Concern That Borders On Fear

Hernán Rozemberg, San Antonio Express-News, Sept. 28

A small town in Delaware considers fining undocumented immigrants. A county in Idaho sues companies that hire them. Cops in New Hampshire arrest them for criminal trespass.

And dozens of military retirees calling themselves Minutemen plan to deploy along the U.S.-Mexico border to stop them from crossing.

Immigration enforcement used to be viewed as the sole responsibility of the federal government. Not anymore.

Opposition to illegal immigration and support for restricting levels of legal migration aren’t new. But they increasingly are organized and have moved from the edge of the political mainstream to the center of the debate.

The principal catalyst seems uncomplicated: Frustration over the government’s inability to halt illegal immigration. Immigration-restriction activists now include politicians, ordinary citizens, even law enforcement officers.


As much political muscle as immigration-restriction groups now enjoy, it’s local actions that have drawn more national notice.

Consider the Minuteman Project. After hundreds of volunteers — organizers claimed nearly 900, though no more than 200 ever were visible — patrolled the Arizona-Mexico border in April, the effort proved so popular that it spawned similar start-ups nationwide.

One of the original founders now claims an uncorroborated membership of more than 8,000. Another monthlong border-watch mission, this time promised for all four U.S. Southern border states, is set to launch this weekend.

The Texas Border Sheriffs’ Coalition, formed in May and representing the state’s 16 border counties, want their departments to become the official second line of defense after the Border Patrol.

Their proposal, called “Operation Linebacker,” asks the federal government to give them $30 million as a down payment to hire and equip 200 deputies whose sole mission would be border protection.

They’d also be trained to be able to arrest undocumented crossers just like Border Patrol agents, said Zapata County Sheriff Sigifredo González, the coalition’s chairman.

A long way from the Rio Grande, Robert Vásquez started a one-man struggle against illegal immigration more than a decade ago.

Born and raised in El Paso, the grandson of Mexican immigrants — who crossed legally, he pointed out — and now a county commissioner in Idaho, he sent the Mexican government a $2 million bill last year for his county’s uncompensated costs for jailing undocumented immigrants.

Vásquez knows the move purely was symbolic, but he’s quite serious about his more recent effort. He convinced county leaders in July to sue four local employers accused of knowingly hiring undocumented workers, using the federal Racketeering Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act, traditionally an anti-mob tool.