Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Minute Men

Mr. Peters
English 102
February 27, 2007

Protecting our Borders or Destroying our Economy

Every year hundreds of thousands of people attempt to enter the United States to make a better life for themselves and their families. Most of them enter through the Mexican border crossing rugged mountains, deserts and rivers; some don’t make it across alive. The difficulties facing these people range from running out of food and water, being dropped off in the middle of nowhere by the men hired to bring them across and being caught by the U.S. Border Patrol. If they are caught they may spend up to six months in a U.S. jail before they are sent back across the border. These difficulties have always been there, but it is getting harder and harder to cross the border into America. The tightening of the border has lead many people to give up their quest to live and work in the United States. In Thomas L. Friedman’s book The World is Flat he described the effect of the fences and border restrictions on the economy, “Even as the world gets flat, America as a whole will benefit more by sticking to the general principles of free trade, as is always does, than by trying to erect wall” (263). One of the groups responsible for the tightening is the Minutemen Civil Defense Corps which had a local meeting in Selah last November.

The Minutemen Civil Defense Corps is a group of civilians who believe the U.S. government has let them down and have taken it upon themselves to do what they can to stop the flow of illegal immigrants into the U.S. Their supporters feel that the Minutemen are protecting America by keeping people from crossing its borders illegally. Their opponents feel that the Minutemen are racist vigilantes because their main focus is on the Mexico/US border where most of the people trying to cross are from Mexico and other Latin American countries. While the Minutemen feel that they are protecting America from being overrun by illegal immigrants and making it a better country, they are in fact severely damaging local economies such as the Yakima Valley and its ability to thrive in the flat world because the immigrants that work most of the agricultural jobs are not making their yearly journey to work here.

Estimates by the Department of Homeland Security show that the population of illegal immigrants increased from 8.5 million to 10.5 million between 2000 and 2005. However most of this increase occurred in 2000-2002 with 2.1 million illegal immigrants entering the country. The population increase was cut in dramatically in 2003-2004 when 1 million illegal immigrants came to the United States due to the tightening of border security. The federal government has increased spending and manpower to help reduce the number of illegal immigrants entering the country through the Canadian and specifically the Mexican borders but many people, such as the Minutemen, feel that the government has not done enough.

According to the Minutemen Civil Defense Corps their purpose is,
“to see the borders and coastal boundaries of the United States secured against the unlawful and unauthorized entry of all individuals, contraband, and foreign military. We will employ all means of civil protest, demonstration, and political lobbying to accomplish this goal” (Minutemen).
The Minutemen have a strict set of guidelines that volunteer members must follow to help ensure the safety of its members and preserve the integrity of the organization. One of their guidelines states that Minutemen believe that “ethnicity, race, or religion is irrelevant in the debate over illegal immigration and there is no tolerance among Minutemen for racism or bigotry.” At the November meeting in the Selah Civic Center Minutemen chapter head and Yakima resident Bob Dameron told the crowd at the meeting, “These people outside label us as racist and vigilantes; it’s all blank lies. We’re not racist, we’re proud Americans and we love our country” (qtd. in Antone). That sentiment is heard and felt through out the Minutemen organization and their supporters.

One of the ways the Minutemen are protecting the border and reducing number of people crossing the border is by setting up patrols in key areas along the Mexican border. These patrols are manned by their volunteer membership that have “backgrounds in military and law enforcement operations” but stress that they are “not a military-oriented organization and have no intension of ever being one.” The Minutemen have a firm set of rules that must be followed to avoid the type of vigilantism that opponents accuse them of being involved in. As stated in their Standard Operating Procedures (SOP) while on patrol “Minutemen do not verbally contact, physically gesture to or have any form of communications with suspected Illegal Aliens.” The Minutemen do not detain people; rather they are an extra set of eyes and ears helping the U.S. Border Patrol. In addition to the patrols a fence along the Mexican border is “being built with privately donated funds, engineering and labor and will be used as an example to educate the public about the feasibility and efficacy of fencing to secure America’s borders from illegal incursion by aliens and international criminal cartels.” The people who support the Minutemen are very grateful that this group has decided to do something about the flow of illegal immigrants into America.

At the Selah meeting the Minutemen found that they had the support of local citizens. Selah resident Carl Evans offered his support by saying, “Why worry about overseas when you can’t keep your own borders secure? That’s why I support them (Minutemen). They’re doing a great job” (qtd. in Antone). The Minutemen are seen as concerned citizens who are trying to protect America and are making up for the short comings of the federal government. While the Minutemen do have their supporters, not everyone agrees with what the Minutemen are doing.
Those opposed to the group feel that the Minutemen are targeting the people of Mexico and other Latin America countries. Some of the local groups that oppose the Minutemen are Águila Del Norte-Yakima, which is a legal observation group with ties to the American Civil Liberties Union, and the Hispanic Alliance for Justice in Yakima and the Washington State Democratic Party Latino Caucus. Águila Del Norte-Yakima spokeswoman Maria Cuevas says that “When private citizens take the laws into their hands, there’s a real potential for violence and abuse” (qtd. in Gonzalez). While the founder of the Washington State Democratic Party Latino Caucus Tony Sandoval said “I fear for my safety, I don’t want anybody to get hurt” (qtd in Gonzalez). A major issue with the Minutemen is the apparent targeting of Hispanic people attempting to cross the border, which is seen as being racist and bigoted. One onlooker at the November meeting was Miguel Rodrigues who is a member of MEChA, the Chicano Student Movement of Azatlan. Mr. Rodrigues said “We understand they have the right to be bigoted and prejudiced, but when they turn that into actions, that’s what we have a problem with” (qtd. in Antone). This is not the only issue that people have with the Minutemen, local farms and orchards are feeling the effects of the Minutemen’s efforts.

The border patrols conducted by the Minutemen are having an effect on the economy in the Yakima Valley because fewer workers are showing up to work in the fields and orchards. An article in the Puget Sound Business Journal details the effects on the reduced number of workers crossing the border. In that article, the executive director of the Washington Growers League, Mike Gempler, said that “Last year a combination of tighter border controls and competitive wages in other industries kept the supply of migrant farmworkers at 10 percent to 15 percent fewer than needed, leading to bleak choices for some fruit farmers.” Without a significant workforce, many orchards will have fruit left on the trees or picked so late in the season they lose their commercial value. The people trying to cross the border to work would always be able to find work because they are considered “untouchable, because their jobs must be done in a specific location” (Friedman 280). This lack of manpower due to border restrictions is severely affecting the way the Yakima Valley competes in the flat world.

The farmers and orchardists are not the only group that will feel the effect of the reduced immigrant population. The Yakima Valley economy itself will suffer because there will be fewer people spending money while they work here. Some people feel that the illegal immigrants are a burden on the economy because they don’t have jobs and live on welfare, this is not entirely true. In fact according to a recent writing by Francine J. Lipman in the legal journal Tax Lawyer:
“Americans believe that undocumented immigrants are exploiting the United States' economy. The widespread belief is that illegal aliens cost more in government services than they contribute to the economy. This belief is undeniably false . . . Eighty-five percent of eminent economists surveyed have concluded that undocumented immigrants have had a positive (seventy-four percent) or neutral (eleven percent) impact on the U.S. economy.”
If the illegal immigrants are such a burden on the American economy, why do so many economists agree that they have a positive affect and not a negative one?

While there may be an extremely large amount of illegal immigrants in the U.S. the benefits of them being here outweigh the consequences. A majority of them are just trying to make a living and earn enough to send to their families back home. Some people may say that they are sending all of the money that they earn back home so it has a negative affect on our economy, but they need to realize that the workers live here while they work. That means they will be shopping at our stores, spending money that will support our economy. The Minutemen may have good intentions but have become the protectionists that Friedman wrote about, “So far America has not succumbed either to economic protectionists, who want to put up walls to keep jobs in, or national security protectionists, who want workers out” (315). The walls are going up for our protection, but it is the local economy that is suffering because of those walls.

Works Cited

Antone, Rod. “Minutemen Meeting Brings Protests in Selah.” Yakima Herald Republic 13 Nov. 2006. 16 Feb. 2007
Friedman, Thomas L. The World Is Flat. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2006.
Gonzalez, Eloisa Ruano. “Minutemen Opponents Rally.” Yakima Herald Republic 25 Oct. 2006. 16 Feb. 2007
Lipman, Francine J., "Taxing Undocumented Immigrants: Separate, Unequal and Without Representation”. Tax Lawyer, Spring 2006 Available at SSRN:
Minutemen Civil Defense Corps. Minutemen Civil Defense Corps.
United States. Department of Homeland Security. Estimates of the Unauthorized Immigrant Population Residing in the United States: January 2005. August 2006
Wilhelm, Steve. “Farmers Fear Worker Shortage” Puget Sound Business Journal (Seattle) 15 May 2006. 20 Feb. 2007

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