May 13, 2005


Vigilantes misplace their anger onto immigrants

By Yolanda Chávez Leyva

The Minuteman Project is peddling fear on our nation’s border.

On April 1, hundreds of volunteers with the project began arriving in Arizona with the intention of patrolling the border and reporting undocumented immigrants to Border Patrol. Some of the vigilantes are armed with guns.

The group’s website proclaims that its one-month monitoring of the border “is a reminder to Americans that our nation was founded as a nation governed by the ‘rule of law,’ not by the whims of mobs of illegal aliens who endlessly stream across U.S. borders.”

But their posse is a mob itself, and it is taking the law into its own hands.

The Arizona border has become the focus of a great deal of activity in recent years. Federal efforts in the mid-1990s — such as “Operation Hold the Line” (Texas) and “Operation Gatekeeper” (California) — helped redirect migrants through the dangerous, often deadly Arizona desert. More than 3,000 migrants have lost their lives crossing the desert since the 1990s, according to the Coalition for Human Rights/Indigenous Alliance without Borders, a Tucson-based human rights organization.

This nation has every right to control its borders. The United States also has the right, and obligation, to protect its people against terrorism. But a simplistic “blame the immigrant” mentality will not help the United States in any way. It will only create more fear and division. And it doesn’t help that groups like the Minuteman Project have tried to exploit Americans’ national security fears following Sept. 11.

It is easy to blame undocumented immigrants for our problems. But what many of us fail to remember is that these immigrants are among the most vulnerable.

Undocumented migrants cross the border seeking a way for their families to survive. They are lured here by American businesses that have recruited Mexican workers, with or without papers, since the 1880s.

Rather than blaming undocumented migrants, we should instead hold globalization, and the corporations that benefit from it, accountable.

For example, the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) has made it easier for companies and capital to cross borders in order to increase their profits. At the same time that NAFTA has bolstered corporate profits, it has hurt both American and Mexican workers and farmers. Around the world, corporations move jobs from country to country, seeking lower-wage workforces with fewer benefits in order to increase corporate profits. In the United States, employers in agriculture, service industries and manufacturing benefit from the low wages paid to workers without papers.

Instead of scapegoating immigrants, we should seek solutions for our economic problems that address the real culprit.

The Minuteman Project states that it is fighting “political, economic and social mayhem.” But that mayhem stems from the corporations that profit from economic policies that ignore the rights of human beings. Go after the policies, not the immigrants.

Yolanda Chávez Leyva is a historian specializing in Mexican-American and border history. She lives in Texas. She can be reached at

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