The "Minutemen" have left their posts along a short stretch of the Arizona border with Mexico after their month-long effort to stem the flow of illegal immigration. The Minuteman Project, which ended May 1, never drew the thousands of volunteers organizers predicted would show up along the 23-mile stretch of desert in Cochise County, Ariz., which has been a favorite crossing point for thousands of illegal aliens. At month's end, fewer than 900 men and women had joined the ragtag group that some hailed as "citizen volunteers" and others condemned as vigilantes, and only 335 illegal aliens were apprehended as the result of their efforts.
That's about half the number of illegal aliens the U.S. Border Patrol usually picks up each month along that same stretch of border -- which the Minutemen say is proof of their effectiveness. But the Border Patrol has a different explanation. The drop in border crossings is "not attributed to any civilians on the border at all," agent Andrea Zortman told National Public Radio recently. In March 2004, she explained, "we began the Arizona Border Control Initiative Phase I, and with that, we brought in additional agents, additional vehicles, assets, infrastructure, technology and whatnot." The Mexican government, too, stepped up its efforts to patrol the border, sending in troops to scare off Mexicans hoping to sneak into the United States near where the Minutemen set up camp with their lawn chairs and binoculars.
Of course no one knows if some of these illegal aliens simply hiked a few extra miles to avoid the new agents and Minutemen and crossed elsewhere. But the Christian Science Monitor reported recently that to extend the same level of manpower along the entire 1,400-mile border with Mexico would require "60,000 people -- and probably a permanent presence, experts note." There's a much better way to deal with the problem, but unfortunately, most politicians seem terrified even to discuss it.
The problem of illegal immigration could be vastly improved, if not solved, if we'd reform legal immigration. The dirty little secret is that we need more immigrants than we currently allow into the U.S. legally, whether we are willing to acknowledge it or not. Now, I know public opinion polls show that most Americans don't want more immigrants. Only 9 percent of Americans favor increasing immigration, according to one recent poll by Republican pollster Ed Goeas. But the vast majority of adult illegal aliens are gainfully employed -- and not at below-minimum wage jobs either -- which means that the American labor market easily absorbs them, and, in fact, has become dependent on them.
Linda Chavez is chairman of the Center for Equal Opportunity and author of Betrayal: How Union Bosses Shake Down Their Members and Corrupt American Politics .
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