By David Cahn/ Anti-Racist White Student Union
Have you heard of the Minutemen? They are a national movement started several years back along the Arizona-Mexico border. Under the leadership of James Gilchrist and Chris Simcox, they have formed around the idea that the United States is under an invasion of illegal immigrants, criminals, and terrorists; that our Federal Government is failing in its duties to protect its citizens; and that it is up to true, red-blooded American patriots to pick up arms and patrol the borders themselves. They have been making a lot of news along the southern border lately, and starting October 1, Whatcom County has the special honor of being home to some of these individuals during their next month-long border watch.
In 2003, Simcox himself described his organization as a “border patrol militia” and described Central and South American immigrants as people who “have no problem slitting your throat and taking your money or selling drugs to your kids or raping your daughter and they are evil people.” With the help of a D.C. based PR firm, the Minutemen have been able to paint themselves a gentler picture. Now, they are concerned, patriotic citizens who oppose illegal immigration, but are still sympathetic to the immigrant’s plight, and even go as far to frame their efforts as a social justice issue.
Gilchrist on the other hand said that critics – including President Bush – who call them vigilantes are wrong. He has also said the FBI has helped to carefully screen out all white supremacists. In reality, the FBI has denied any such relationship with the Minutemen, and countless news stories have documented the involvement of Aryan Nation and National Alliance members within their ranks. Earlier this year, major neo-Nazi websites have recruited for the Minuteman rallies in Arizona and California and Gilchrist himself recently joined the California Coalition for Immigration Reform, a viciously anti-immigrant group that routinely describes Mexicans as “savages.”
What can we expect here in Whatcom County? Well, wherever the Minutemen make themselves known, splinter groups have invariably blossomed. These groups and individuals have illegally detained, harassed, beat, and executed people along the U.S.-Mexico border.
While obviously we don’t have Canadians trying to sneak across our border on a daily basis, our recent history with hate groups and militias in this county concerns me. Ask any local resident of Bellingham or Whatcom County about the militias and cross burnings in Whatcom County during the mid-90s. While the majority of the Minutemen volunteers aren’t even from Washington, I am taking the liberty to assume they will be tapping into these same local communities for support.
What the Minutemen and other groups have termed an “invasion” of “illegal aliens out to take advantage of a free society,” is, truthfully, the migration of individuals fleeing the social, political and economic conditions of their countries that have been degraded by inhumane policies of NAFTA and other free-trade agreements. Moreover is the fact that our economy relies on the exploited labor of immigrants– working our farms, cooking our food, cleaning hotels, and more– treated as invisible while receiving pitiful wages and under constant threat of harassment and racist backlash.
If we live in a democracy, the way our borders are run should be decided through a political process. In their patriotic zeal, the Minutemen seem to think they can circumvent this process with vigilante tactics. Fortunately, Whatcom County residents recognize this and are organizing against their presence. The day the Minutemen start their watch, folks from Whatcom County and British Columbia are meeting to have a day long interfaith vigil at the Peace Arch in Blaine to call attention to the Minutemen. A local group, the Coalition for Professional Law and Border Enforcement, is also pushing the Bellingham City Council to pass a resolution against their presence. The resolution is being voted on Monday, October 10th at 7:00 p.m. at Bellingham City Hall, 210 Lottie Street. Our presence as students at this meeting will send the strong message of a unified community that doesn’t accept these vigilantes in our county. For more info on the efforts of this Coalition you can call (360) 756-2330 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.