Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison has a bad idea for border security that she wants to make into law.
With complaints mounting about lax border controls, U.S. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison called Wednesday for giving local police the power to arrest illegal immigrants and for creation of a "border marshal" program to let local peace officers help patrol the border.
"Our borders have been hemorrhaging for too long. It is a national security and safety threat to our nation," said the vice chairwoman of the Senate Republican Conference. "I just don't think we'll ever have enough Border Patrol agents."
The proposal is one of a slew of proposals around Congress to tighten borders, and like many of the others, this one drew swift denunciation from immigrant advocates, who warned that police aren't properly trained and have enough to do already.
Ms. Hutchison called her plan a direct response to the Minuteman Project, the controversial group that has sent hundreds of volunteers to deter illegal crossings in Arizona, Texas and other states, and said "the Minutemen have shown that citizens are now really wanting to be helpful in patrolling borders."
But, she added, it's not safe for untrained volunteers to take on those duties. Her bill would let the Homeland Security Department create a "Volunteer Border Marshal" program involving police, sheriffs and other licensed peace officers. Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff was noncommittal about the idea during a 45-minute meeting in her office Wednesday, the Texas senator said.
The bill would give cities and states the option to enforce and prosecute federal immigration laws.
Immigrant advocates warned that local authorities are more likely to injure or kill non-Anglo people – immigrants or citizens. And they predicted sweeps of construction sites and day-laborer pickup areas across the country, deterring immigrants from reporting crimes.
"They'll be easy victims. No one will protect them," said Brent Wilkes, executive director of the League of United Latin American Citizens.
He called the proposal a sign of an immigrant-bashing spiral.
"They're getting more and more aggressive, more and more outrageous in the proposals. It's like immigrants are all mass murderers," he said.
"You could turn the whole country into a police state and that still won't solve the problem. People come here for jobs that are offered by American employers."
As columnist Cynthia Tucker pointed out recently, anti-immigrationists rarely attack those who hire illegal immigrants. If they were truly serious about stopping illegal immigration, then they ought to pass laws and start prosecuting folks who hire undocumented workers.
Our failed drug war offers an analogy. If there were no demand, there would be no drug problem. If there were no demand for undocumented workers performing jobs that American citizens are unwilling to do — hotel maids, poultry workers, landscapers, bricklayers — then people wouldn't be streaming across the border to fill those jobs.
If Sen. Hutchison is serious about solving the immigration problem, pushing to pass the president's guest-worker plan is a solid step in that direction. Deputizing local police to enforce immigration laws is hardly the solution.
[A] top officer in a statewide law enforcement group in Texas said state and local officers may be hard-pressed to pitch in with immigration enforcement.
"We all have our own jobs to do," said Chris McGill of El Paso, vice president of the Combined Law Enforcement Association of Texas and president of the El Paso Municipal Police Officers Association. "I don't think a lot of them are going to volunteer their time to stand around on the border to assist a federal agency to do their job."
The Hutchison immigration bill is a grandstanding effort. Local law enforcement and volunteers should not be asked to do the federal government's job.
Passing the buck to Texas cities and counties who are already struggling to balance their budgets and control crime with an out of control deficit and burdens of unfunded mandates is wrong.
We must solve this problem at our borders and with a national security policy. Asking local law enforcement or groups of "volunteers," which is a nice word for vigilantes, to hunt down and imprison alleged immigrants, does nothing to stem the flow of people into this country.
The bill's sloppy wording alone will generate controversy. It empowers anyone by the nonsensical, yet broad language describing volunteers as "licensed by a state authority to enforce State or local penal offenses."
It's only a matter of time before someone is killed, and then Ms. Hutchison will wonder how things got out of hand with vigilante proposals. Until we gain control of our borders, we cannot begin to face the tragedy of ten million - far more than ten million - mothers, fathers and children - who are already here. Ms. Hutchison's grandstanding proposal fails to protect our borders or our national security.
"I am not a fan of volunteers doing — no matter how admirable their intentions — a job for trained law enforcement professionals," Cornyn said.
With volunteers and militias, Cornyn said, "somebody is going to get hurt, who shouldn't get hurt, who I don't want to see get hurt."