Commentary

TUCSON, Ariz. — The Statue of Liberty made a quick trip to Tombstone, Ariz., on April 1, welcoming all new immigrants coming to America in search of jobs and freedom. She also came to have her say about the Minuteman Project, a group of armed civilians invading Arizona in the month of April who claim the U.S. government hasn’t done enough to “secure” the Mexican-U.S. border.

The Statue of Liberty, also known as “Walking Mary,” a human rights activist from Bisbee, Ariz., was immediately swarmed by hordes of media, hungry for a story that had a bit of the true promise of America, rather than hate, as its context.

The Minuteman volunteers — most of them armed, white, middle-aged men — began patrolling the border in Arizona on April 1 in search of undocumented workers and their families. The project initially claimed to have over 1,000 pre-registered volunteers. Less than 150 showed up for the opening rally and patrols. Law enforcement officials warned the project was a “recipe for disaster” and even President Bush called the group “vigilantes.”

Speakers at the rally included hatemonger Rep. Tom Tancredo (R-Colo.), who brought out the most strident, divisive, mean-spirited and “anti-American” ideas as a call for racist action.

Also attending the opening rally were about 60 anti-vigilante protesters, including “first American” Native American dancers and drummers, and pan-banging and chanting demonstrators from southern Arizona and surrounding communities.

The head of the Border Patrol’s Tucson sector said the Minuteman volunteers are “not the kind of help the Border Patrol is asking for.” After two days of activities along the border, Border Patrol officials complained that the Minuteman patrols were tripping sensors along the border because they were unfamiliar with the terrain, and were becoming a nuisance. Border Patrol is obligated to follow up on such false alarms.

Many of the vigilantes brought their dogs, one of which was described by his owner as “trained to hunt Mexicans.” Others sported Nazi paraphernalia.

The ACLU and American Friends Service Committee have legal observers present to ensure that everyone’s civil liberties are respected. Arizona ACLU board member Carolyn Trowbridge said, “We are here to ensure that no one’s human or civil rights are violated. The U.S. Constitution protects the fundamental rights of all human beings within our borders. This includes immigrants. The Minutemen have a right to express and demonstrate their First Amendment protected views. However, hunting down other human beings is not protected speech.”

Observer groups set up their own monitoring posts along the border. An Arizona congressional delegation, including Democrats Kyrsten Sinema, Steve Gallardo and Tom Pryszelski, have participated.

Local residents are concerned about the presence of the Minuteman vigilantes. “I want this border issue solved, but I don’t want these guys out here, acting up and playing Wyatt Earp,” said Mike Anderson of Bisbee.

The United Farm Workers of America, a union that organizes many immigrant agricultural workers, called for the passage of the AgJobs bill in the wake of the “border bigots” publicity stunt.

“The men, women, and children crossing the border today seek the hardest jobs” for little pay and intolerable working conditions, the UFW statement read. “They sweat and sacrifice to bring the rich bounty of fresh fruits and vegetables to our tables. The spectacle of vigilantes intimidating human beings who perform such vital labor for our country should prompt Congress to enact the bipartisan AgJobs proposal jointly negotiated by the United Farm Workers and the nation’s agricultural industry (S. 359 and H.R. 884).”

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