Governor Defends Border Watchers

Carla Marinucci, San Francisco Chronicle, Sept. 22

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, who heads to Mexico on Friday to discuss border and education issues, congratulated the federal government this week for improving border enforcement—and stuck by his defense of a citizens border patrol group as a neighborhood watch group that is not harming anybody.

Schwarzenegger, in an interview with The Chronicle, addressed the issue of California-Mexico relations and illegal immigration before his trip to Mexicali, the capital of Baja California, to meet with Baja California Gov. Eugenio Elorduy.

The governor said he’ll talk about trade, cultural and educational exchanges, and tourism during the meeting.

But asked how he would address Mexican concern about the anti-illegal immigration citizens’ patrol called the Minutemen, Schwarzenegger did not retreat from his past support for the group.

“It’s no different than if you have a neighborhood watch person there that’s watching your children at the playground. I don’t see it any different,” he said. “Or, if I have my personal guards at the house, because I feel like the police (are) not going to be able to take care of the job because they are overwhelmed. It’s just that private citizens take on the responsibility.”

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Schwarzenegger, whose poll numbers have fallen precipitously among Latino voters in California, could be in for some tough criticism in Mexico—where officials and average citizens have bridled at his suggestions that the Minutemen organization, which President Bush criticized as vigilantes, could be a positive force on the border.

Political analyst Sherry Bebitch Jeffe said Schwarzenegger will no doubt take heat for his comments on the Minutemen and the border.

She said among California’s Latino voters, “he has gone down dramatically in his approval ratings (because of) the Minutemen.” She noted that while Schwarzenegger drew at least a third of the Latino votes in the October 2003 recall election, current polls show more than 70 percent of Latinos now disapprove of his job performance.

“I have to believe that this is what Arnold truly believes—that there’s no political calculation in it,” she said. But there is also a strong possibility that the governor’s get-tough comments on immigration reflect that “he’s adopted a Bush-like strategy” as he nears the special election.

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Schwarzenegger, in the interview Tuesday, praised federal officials for responding to his requests for more border guards and better security to help stem an increased flow of illegal immigrants. He specifically noted Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff’s announcement this month that the Bush administration intends to speed the way to finish the final 3.5 miles of a 14-mile $32 million border fence running through San Diego to the Pacific Ocean.

“My preference is that the federal government takes care of the issue, and I have to say that the federal government has come through with their promise,” he said.

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