Guest Column: Peter Laufer

Below is a guest column from Peter Laufer, author of Wetback Nation: The Case for Opening the Mexican-American Border, sharing his thoughts about the Minuteman Project, which California’s immigrant governor has recently praised, and which has been denounced by civil rights groups.

No one disagrees that the U.S.-Mexico border is out of control. Virtually anyone who wants to come north across that line simply comes north. If they survive the crossing, they try to disappear into an America anxious to take advantage of their labor, and they usually succeed.

But it’s murderous chaos on the border today: desperate migrants succumb to harsh weather, vicious bandits and the brutal extortion techniques of the smugglers they hire to help them gain access to the American Dream. The Border Patrol doesn’t only try to keep undocumented travelers out of the U.S., it often saves the border jumpers’ lives before it deports them.

The so-called Minuteman Project — the stationing of self-selected volunteers along the Arizona border this spring in a vain attempt to stem the flow of illegal traffic north — is only exacerbating the crisis. I’ve spent time on that border with these self-appointed guardians. I know that a motley bunch of thrill-seeking publicity junkies will not keep hungry Mexicans from making the trek north. At best the vigilantes will be an irritant to the travelers. At worst they’ll spark tragic and unnecessary violence.

Chris Simcox is one of the Minuteman Project ringleaders. When he moved to Arizona from California in 2003 and bought the Tombstone Tumbleweed he slapped an editorial across the front page of the paper that screamed: “Enough is enough! A public call to arms! Citizens Border Patrol Militia Now Forming!” The immediate result was to disrupt life in his new hometown.

I stayed at at Curley Bill’s Bed & Breakfast, a few blocks across town from the Tombstone Tumbleweed offices. Owner Larry “Curley Bill” Alves expressed disgust with Simcox. “I’m a conservative Republican, but I’m an ex-senior non-com in Vietnam. He’s a little kid who never got to play soldier as a kid.” And hotelier Alves sees a direct relationship between his bed and breakfast business and Simcox’s ability to draw national news coverage. “This militia stuff hurts tourism. People in this town don’t like this at all.”

Alves’s wife, Sally, readily agreed. “If you could still run people out of town on a rail, he’d be run out of town on a rail. I’ve had a couple of people cancel reservations, afraid Simcox and his group were walking around with assault rifles and camouflage. It’s too bad when a guy doing something bad owns the town’s newspaper.”

A few miles down the road from Tombstone, Douglas Mayor Ray Borane, born and raised in the border town he now governs, just wishes Simcox and his followers would go back where they came from. He calls the volunteers assembled on the US side of the border a charade. “The only thing it lacked,– he told me about the border chaos, –was an idiot like that guy Simcox up the road. Simcox writes that idiotic call to arms, and I really don’t think that he, in his lifetime, would have ever dreamt that he was going to get the attention he got. The media jumped on it. Before you know it he’s a media cutie. Not because he’s saying things that are going to be effective, but because it’s so outlandish and it’s reminiscent of the Old West. The media built him. He’s a fraud.

There is a simple solution to securing the U.S.-Mexican border: let Mexicans who wish to come north, come north. Regularize that which cannot be controlled, which we in fact do not wish to control because we need the labor.

The best arguments for eliminating attempts to control Mexican migration are that such a policy is counterproductive to attempt and impossible to achieve. Instead, open the border to Mexicans. These people are coming north despite US laws. Open the border to Mexican workers so that the bad guys cannot hide in their shadows as they sneak across the border. Open the border to Mexicans the US wants and needs, and then the Border Patrol will know that the people trying to break into the US — the ones in the tunnels, those running across the desert and jumping the fences — are the real villains. Open the border to Mexicans, a significant fuel for the US economy, and make it easier for the Border Patrol to keep out the drug traffickers and the terrorists.

Opening the border to the free passage of Mexicans who wish to come north is the only reasonable and long-term solution. Over time the Mexicans and we will learn to blend, not collide. And once Mexicans can again travel freely north, the US government will know that the people in the tunnels and jumping the fences and running across the desert are the villains and not the fuel of the US economy.

You can acknowledge the reality that this policy is correct and work to make it happen, or just allow events to overwhelm you. Because now or later, the artificial line separating Mexico from the US (and Mexico’s former land) will disappear.

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