Leaders chat, border vigilantes mobilize

As Bush meets with Vicente Fox and Paul Martin, is the illegal-immigration issue about to boil over?

By Julia Scott
Published March 23, 2005 10:56PM (EST)

Meeting at Baylor University in Texas on Wednesday, President Bush, Mexican President Vicente Fox and Canadian Prime Minister Paul Martin announced a vaguely defined initiative to make borders more secure, facilitate the flow of "legal traffic" and increase trade competitiveness between NAFTA's three countries.

The issue on everyone's minds, immigration, was only briefly addressed when Bush made a statement in support of his guest-worker initiative, citing "a better way to enforce our border ... to be compassionate and decent about the workers who are coming here to the United States." (If a consortium of right-wing Republicans battling Bush on the issue have their way, legislation known as the Real ID Act will ensure that the U.S. won't be viewed as having a "compassionate and decent" policy on immigration.)

Meanwhile, CIA director Porter Goss and others testified last week that al-Qaida operatives have considered using entry from Mexico to attack the U.S. At a press conference in Mexico City, Vicente Fox denied the allegation. "We don't have any evidence or any indication either that terrorists from al Qaeda or from any other part of the world are coming into Mexico and going through to the United States," he said.

Despite Fox's reassurances that Mexico is enhancing border security and introducing jobs to dissuade its citizens from attempting to immigrate, a group of American border vigilantes, disatisfied with federal policy and gathering under the banner of the "Minuteman Project," is aiming to take the matter into its own hands. Starting April 1, as many as 1,000 civilian volunteers, some carrying guns, plan to help apprehend and report illegal immigrants along the Arizona border. Though the group says its volunteers "won't be violent or confrontational," a Border Patrol official has warned that their effort is a "recipe for a tragedy" -- a fair appraisal, if Arizona's troubling history with border vigilantes is any indication.

Julia Scott

San Francisco-based freelance journalist Julia Scott writes about water and energy issues for various publications. She also covers the environment for Bay Area News Group, a chain of newspapers in Northern California.

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