Friday, July 29, 2005
Border Militia Proposal Gets Cool Reception
By Alicia A. Caldwell/
EL PASO, Texas For once it seems that an immigrants' rights organization and a volunteer border patrol group agree on something: They oppose a Texas congressman's proposal for a government-sponsored, armed militia to patrol America's borders.
Despite clashes over plans for a volunteer force to patrol the U.S.-Mexico border, both the League of United Latin American Citizens and the Minuteman Civil Defense Corps disagree with legislation introduced this week by U.S. Rep. John Culberson, R-Houston.
The bill would set up militias with law-enforcement powers whose members could "use any means and any force authorized by state law'' to apprehend illegal border crossers or suspected criminals and turn them over to federal authorities.
"Forming militias or condoning militias is not the right answer,'' said Roger Rocha, the Texas state director for LULAC.
Arming a civilian militia and authorizing more than $6 billion to help border states pay for it, as Culberson proposed, is "a slap in the face'' to federal law enforcement officers working on the border, Rocha said.
It also could have political fallout, Rocha suggested.
"It could critically jeopardize the Hispanic vote which politicians covet so much,'' Rocha said.
Culberson's bill was akin to "adding more bandages to an already failed system. It is not going to address the problems we have,'' said Gary Cole, an operations manager for the Tombstone, Ariz.-based Minuteman Civil Defense Corps, which drew international attention after patrolling the U.S.-Mexico border in Arizona earlier this year.
Congress needs to change the way the border is protected. Only that would stop illegal immigrants, drug and human traffickers, Cole said.
"We have to become willing as a nation to ensure that other nations recognize our sovereign boundaries,'' he said.
Although El Paso County Sheriff Leo Samaniego said he doesn't support any militia, he said the idea has some merit because it draws more attention to border security issues.
"I think we need to really examine the involvement of citizens unprepared or unskilled in law enforcement techniques,'' Samaniego said in a statement.
A U.S. Customs and Border Protection spokeswoman in Washington said the agency does not comment on pending legislation.
Initial reaction from both LULAC and the Minutemen was surprising, said Culberson's deputy chief of staff in Washington, Tony Essalih.
"I think we need to talk to the Minutemen more about the bill and of course share some information with LULAC,'' Essalih said.
Culberson drafted the bill because voters have demanded improvements in border security improvements, Essalih said.
"People are desperate for some bold, decisive action in terms of securing our borders, and I think that this definitely fits that definition,'' he said.
Culberson's aide said the congressman would press hard to get the bill passed when Congress returns to session after the Labor Day holiday in September. The legislation had 46 Republican co-sponsors.
In the meantime, Rocha said LULAC members nationwide are already being mobilized to start fighting any movement on the plan.
Preparations for October patrols by Minutemen volunteers in Texas, New Mexico, California will go on regardless of what happens with Culberson's bill, Cole said.