Capitol Hill (CNSNews.com) - The U.S. Border Patrol arrested 955,310 illegal aliens from more than 150 countries in fiscal year 2002, but 96 percent of those caught entering the U.S. illegally were from Mexico. Some citizens along the southern U.S. border say those arrests have done little to stem the flow of illegal immigrants into their homeland and are now taking action themselves.
Before the 2000 census, the Census Bureau estimated the population of illegal aliens in the U.S. at six million. But Northeastern University's Center for Labor Market Studies believes the difference between the Census Bureau's total population estimates and the actual 2000 census totals can be attributed primarily to illegal immigrants, not six million, but approximately 11 million of them.
Chris Simcox - editor and publisher of the Tombstone Tumbleweed, a weekly newspaper serving the famous Arizona town and surrounding areas - was "fed up" with both the seemingly unending flow of illegal immigrants across the border in his town and with the federal government's apparent inability to stop it.
He began writing about the problems in his paper, calling for the federal government to send in the military, or the state government to activate the National Guard.
If You Want Something Done Right...
When neither of those things happened, Simcox organized Civil Homeland Defense, a group of more than 50 U.S. citizens who have trained and equipped themselves to patrol the U.S. Border with Mexico, and armed themselves for self-defense.
The group says it will be "humanely assisting those [illegal border crossers] who are attracted to them by way of making sure they have water and blankets and any immediate medical attention they may need." But members will also place the suspected illegal aliens under citizen's arrest and detain them for the U.S. Border Patrol.
Under Title 8 Section 1325 of the U.S. Code, "Improper Entry by Alien," any citizen of any country other than the United States who:
Enters or attempts to enter the United States at any time or place other than as designated by immigration officers; or
Eludes examination or inspection by immigration officers; or
Attempts to enter or obtains entry to the United States by a willfully false or misleading representation or the willful concealment of a material fact;
has committed a federal crime.
Violations are punishable by criminal fines and imprisonment for up to six months. Repeat offenses can bring up to two years in prison. Additional civil fines may be imposed at the discretion of immigration judges, but civil fines do not negate the criminal sanctions or nature of the offense.
Border Patrol Discourages 'Taking Matters Into Their Own Hands'
Mario Villarreal, a spokesman for the U.S. Border Patrol, could not comment on the actions of any specific group, but did speak generally about the issue of civilians patrolling the U.S. border.
"The Border Patrol appreciates the efforts of non-governmental organizations and members of the general public, but we discourage private parties from taking matters into their own hands," Villarreal said. "What's important is that any organization or group abide by the law and work within the parameters of the law."
Despite Simcox's pledge to do just that, detractors call him and his associates "vigilantes."
John Fife is a former leader of the Tucson-based "Sanctuary Movement," a group that aids illegal aliens through efforts such as placing "water stations" in the desert near known illegal crossings.
He told the Arizona Daily Star Dec. 2 that the citizen patrols are "vigilantes running around with guns hunting human beings and putting all sorts of peoples' lives in danger."
Simcox disputed that characterization.
"We're going to use the government to screen our volunteers," he noted, adding that many of the group's members have experience in law enforcement or the military.
"Everyone who comes will have to get a concealed weapons permit and will have to go through that screening, [which includes] a felony background check and an FBI check," Simcox added.
It may be, based on Villarreal's comments, the so-called sanctuary groups that are actually putting illegal aliens' lives in danger.
"Water stations may provide a false sense of security for would-be border crossers," he said. "You have an individual or a group of people that may feel that their journey will be successful because of, as an example, a water station five miles into their journey.
"But, what happens in many cases is, they don't find these kinds of resources in the desert, they become dehydrated and end up in various forms of medical distress," Villarreal added.
In 2001, the Border Patrol rescued more than 1700 illegal aliens in medical distress due to dehydration, malnutrition, exposure, and other maladies, 450 of them in the Tucson service area alone.
Other opponents of the citizen patrols, like television talk show co-host Alan Colmes of the Fox News Channel's Hannity & Colmes program, argue that Simcox is violating the law.
"Disregarding what law?" Simcox asked Colmes. "This is our constitutional right to protect our borders."
Public Support for Stopping Illegal Immigration Strong
The idea of armed citizens patrolling the border to prevent illegal aliens, drug smugglers and terrorists from crossing into the U.S. is supported by 90 percent of the 19,221 unique respondents to an Arizona Daily Star poll coinciding with the story about Simcox.
Rep. Tom Tancredo (R-Colo.), chairman of the Congressional Immigration Reform Caucus, has been calling for the deployment of federal troops on the U.S.-Mexico border for years.
"It's about time they realize that the people of this country justifiably feel that the U.S. border is a sieve," Tancredo said in a press release. "It poses a real threat to our security, and ignoring this fact represents the most egregious evidence that the federal government is shirking its responsibility to the people of this nation."
The Immigration Reform Caucus' website lists "Unbelievable Immigration Stories" including:
Mexican Army and Law Enforcement Agencies routinely make "incursions" into the U.S. A total of 23 were confirmed by the U.S. government in 2001. The purpose of these incursions is not totally understood, but U.S. officials have speculated that they are designed to help facilitate the flow of illegal drugs into America. The Mexican government sent a curt response to Rep. Tancredo's inquiry, implying that the troops were merely getting lost. Not a single U.S. law enforcement agent on the ground in the southwest has agreed with that explanation.
The Coronado National Forest in Southern Arizona sits along 60 miles of the U.S.-Mexico Border. It has become one of the most popular drug smuggling routes in the Southwest, with smugglers moving on foot across the forest, typically carrying homemade backpacks filled with 50+pounds of marijuana.
A barbed wire fence demarcates most of the border between Douglas and Nogales, Arizona. There are several places, however, where a gate has been simply put in the fence to make crossing through it less of a hassle. In one place, the fence gives way to nothing more than a cattle guard!
The rugged Coronado National Forest has become strewn with literally thousands of trails and footpaths worn into the land by the flow of illegal immigrants. Often, the "UDA's," as undocumented aliens are referred to by law enforcement, leave their campfires burning, starting forest fires. Over 60,000 acres of the Coronado have burned recently, much of it the result of fires started by UDA's.
A petition drive organized by Tancredo in June of 2002 calling on President Bush to deploy troops on the border shut down the White House email system. More than 11,000 petitions were received in ten days.
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