HOW SHE SEES IT What's behind the border 'patrol' push?
By MARY SANCHEZ
KNIGHT RIDDER NEWSPAPERS
Jim Gilchrist could easily be dismissed as a nut.
Or as a vigilante. A bigot. A zealot.
As any number of the names he is being called for organizing a monthlong "patrol" of the U.S./Mexico border during April.
The retired California accountant says he is none of these things.
He might be telling the truth.
Besides, it is impossible to delve into Gilchrist's soul and decipher true motives.
All that can be done is judge Gilchrist by what he says; by what he does.
Gilchrist's effort -- called The Minuteman Project -- has already drawn more than 800 volunteers who are intent on "securing the U.S. border." The recruits are coming from every state.
These are people eager to don camouflage gear, camp out and traipse through a portion of the border near Tombstone, Ariz. They say their efforts will help the U.S. Border Patrol catch migrants.
Never mind that the border patrol doesn't want their help.
Gilchrist admits he is doing it for publicity.
He says he wants to draw national attention to the problem of illegal immigration.
This is where Gilchrist makes sense.
He says politicians are showing "downright cowardice." He says far too many politicians are willing to look the other way instead of enforcing immigration laws.
He says corporations are greedy and want cheap labor.
And he says the immigrants are not an "invading army" but rather are "an invading army of refugees."
They are economic refugees who are simply looking for better opportunities because few exist in their own country, he says.
Gilchrist is exactly on point with these comments.
Politicians are fearful of enacting immigration reform.
For example, Congress pretended in the mid-'90s to penalize employers who hire illegal labor. Congress then created a giant loophole for those employers.
"I didn't know he/she was illegal," is basically all an employer has to say to get out of trouble.
Easy to exploit
Many companies do prefer illegal labor because the people are easy to exploit with low wages and unsafe working conditions.
And as long as the disparity of wealth and opportunity exists between the United States and Mexico, migrants will be drawn to try to find a better life elsewhere, even if it means risking their life to cross a desert.
But if Gilchrist wants more understanding for these stated goals, why this method?
Gilchrist's Minuteman Project is akin to hunting down illegal immigrants like prey.
He says he has turned away a few people who seemed too cocky, too prone to mood swings or road rage. But when you put the call out for Rambo, don't be surprised when he shows up.
And he emphasizes the recruits, some of whom will be armed, will not catch illegal immigrants, simply monitor them.
A sturdy root of the problem is that Mexico is full of people needing better economic opportunities. And the United States is full of opportunity.
Fortifying the border will not change that reality.
The number of illegal immigrants in the United States has actually increased due to such efforts in recent years.
That's right, increased.
Illegal immigrants tend to go back and forth across the border, up to the United States for work and then returning home to their families.
But with more federal surveillance at the border, many people have begun staying longer in the United States.
Ranchers in the area to be patrolled have told Gilchrist that shots might be fired if any Minutemen stray on to private land. Gilchrist says he has been threatened by a violent Latino gang as well.
Yet, Gilchrist says he mostly fears "two types of agitators":
People who want violence to occur during the patrols so they can say, "told you so."
And people who think violence is the only way to decrease illegal immigration.
So why create a stage that is perfectly suited for both types?
Why organize an event that will likely draw simplistic media coverage of men running around in flak jackets, not nuanced reporting about immigration?
Reasonable people should be suspicious.
X Mary Sanchez is an opinion-page columnist for The Kansas City Star. Distributed by Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.