April 1, 2005 in Opinion

Horrific incident brewing on border

Mary Sanchez Kansas City Star
 

The battle lines are forming for an unfortunate showdown at the U.S./Mexico border.

A retired California accountant began this fiasco-in-the-making by organizing The Minuteman Project. James Gilchrist envisioned a monthlong publicity stunt. He asked people to patrol for illegal immigrants during April, near Tombstone, Ariz.

Now, a very vocal response to Gilchrist is organizing as well. Armando Navarro, a University of California at Riverside ethnic studies professor, recently announced plans for counterdemonstrations at the border.

Gilchrist’s goal was to bring needed attention to illegal immigration’s costs, the problem of migrants trekking across private land, the medical expenses they tally, and fears of terrorists slipping in along with Mexicans in search of work. Gilchrist insists his more than 1,000 volunteers will only monitor the migrants, like a neighborhood watch. He says he is not encouraging violence.

But by recruiting people through the Internet using war terms; that may exactly what he is courting.

Gilchrist is especially interested in pilots with their own aircraft, law enforcement and military veterans with long range reconnaissance backgrounds.

As a reply, Navarro states, “for every action, there is a reaction.”

OK. But what is not needed is a reaction that buys into the fervor Gilchrist created. Even worse is a reaction that ratchets the situation up another notch.

Navarro, just by showing up, may provide the not-needed tinder. Navarro has long been the scourge of Minuteman supporters. He has organized protests in the past against citizen patrols at the border.

Gilchrist’s plot is nothing new. It just involves more people than past efforts.

Navarro’s tone and word choices often make him an easy target. The professor’s fervent stands to organize Latinos politically are often misconstrued as separatist. Navarro wants Latinos to gain the power and influence their numbers convey. He understands the present is a critical juncture for the Latino population, accurately noting there are too few true national leaders for Latinos.

Many of Navarro’s prolific writings deal with the history of Latino political leadership; how efforts have been undermined.

The irony is Gilchrist and Navarro actually have some things in common. Both men are right to lay blame for the continuing problems of illegal immigration with both the U.S. and the Mexican governments. Both are being threatened for their beliefs.

Gilchrist said he has received threats from some of the drug dealers who operate at the border. This should come as no surprise. The Mexican drug-dealers see the border as their turf.

Navarro is also receiving threats through e-mails and phone calls, but from supporters of the Minutemen. One group of protesters even showed up at the university demanding the University of California system fire Navarro.

And both men are lashing out in part because of frustration. People protest when they feel there is no other choice, when they feel pitted against a rock and a hard place.

Remember trapped animals bite.

Both Gilchrist and Navarro at times fit this scenario. Gilchrist says he has tried to strip the trigger-happy sorts out of his volunteers, some of whom will be armed. And Navarro says none of his followers, which include people from both sides of the border, will be armed. Both men say they are limiting their numbers, an attempt to keep some sort of control.

But hotheads can be hard to detect.

And the pack journalism congregating at the border won’t help. People on both sides will be tempted to play to the cameras like children acting out when guests arrive.

Gilchrist feels he stands for the rights of North Americans. Navarro doesn’t want the migrants to be scapegoats.

Both men make valid points.

But both are also playing incendiary roles in what could easily turn into a horrific international incident.


Thoughts and opinions on this story? Click here to comment >>

Get stories like this in a free daily email