The Public Square


The other day, a press spokesman at a state agency quoted Vladimir Lenin to me. It has been strange like that recently. I haven’t been able to verify the quotation, but it certainly is apropos of the moment. He said, “there are decades when nothing happens, and then there are weeks when decades happen.” It’s easy to forget, what with the hurricanes, the toppling of our own Tom DeLay (more about that in our next issue), and the rash of other Republican scandals, that October is supposed to be the month of the Minuteman invasion of the Texas border.

The Minuteman movement, for those not paying attention, is the brainchild of a couple of guys from Arizona and California. They are literally up in arms about illegal immigration from Mexico. Last August, they took their road show to the Arizona-Mexico border, where as many as 900 came to harass those entering the country illegally and to assist the border patrol in apprehending them. Now, there is a Texas Minuteman project.

Immigration was supposed to be one of the big agenda items for Congress and the president this fall, and there are several versions of federal legislation kicking around. Most of them take a carrot and stick approach: offering a form of legal status to some while beefing up enforcement for everyone else. Both sides are worried about angering a sizeable voting block that’s still up for grabs. Serious legislation seems less likely now from a severely weakened administration and a divided GOP Congress that’s DeLay-less,

It’s risible to think that the Minutemen could have any measurable impact on illegal immigration. A large and well-equipped official border police force can’t do it. The Minutemen appear to be a disorganized and motley crew of ex-law enforcement agents, retirees, and allegedly, white supremacists. The Mexican government is reported to have instructed its citizens on where the Minutemen will be so that those who chose to cross could avoid them.

In Texas, as they did in Arizona, civil rights activists as well as Latino and progressive groups are planning both to monitor and denounce the activities of the group. Clearly the point of the Minutemen’s political theater is that there needs to be a tighter control of the border. If it’s all about publicity, why not just ignore them?

Rather than take that approach, on September 17 in Austin, about 500 demonstrators turned a Mexican Independence Day parade into a boisterous repudiation of the Minutemen. The crowd massing in front of the Capitol steps was young and fired up. The number of Texas Latinos grows every day. They can feel the wind at their back. At least 11 different activist groups were represented at the march. The rally presented several reasons for an opposition answer to the Minutemen. Ray Ibarra, of the Texas ACLU, urged observers to join him in monitoring the Minutemen to prevent them from physically abusing migrants. On a loftier note, he hoped that a vocal opposition to the Minutemen would draw attention to the problems on the border and the plight of immigrants. For State Rep. Roberto Alonzo (D-Dallas), the reason for the protest was the precedent. “If you don’t respond, it just gets worse,” he said.

For those activists who are hungry to organize a soon-to-be Latino majority, the border vigilantes are a great foil. “I want to thank the Minutemen for being stupid enough to unite us,” said Joe Perez, representing a group called Texans United Latino Artists.

At the Congress Avenue entrance to the Capitol complex, about 100 pro-Minutemen demonstrators gathered. It was easy to feel that sunny Saturday that debating immigration, even sometimes crudely, is good.—JB