By Chris Strohm
After demonstrating in Arizona that a presence of people along the border can curb illegal immigration, border-control proponents came to Washington to try to win over the minds - and money - of the federal government.
On Wednesday, supporters of tighter border controls presented lawmakers with their ideas, which include deploying the military to the borders, authorizing $12 billion in emergency funding, and merging two Homeland Security Department bureaus.
The two main organizers of a group in Arizona that set up citizen camps to stop illegal immigration during April met with members of the Congressional Immigration Reform Caucus.
"The time for hand-wringing, the time for worrying about hurting people's feelings, is long past," said Chris Simcox, one of the organizers, during a press conference in Washington. "Will it take the blood of an American citizen being spilled on that border, perhaps an 80-year-old great-grandmother sitting in a lawn chair, to get the attention of the president? We hope not."
The group, organized as the Minuteman Project, set up citizen camps along a 20-mile stretch of the Arizona-Mexico border. Participants in the all-volunteer project were prohibited from making contact with illegal immigrants, but only observed and reported activity to the Border Patrol. Organizers said that illegal immigration had been almost stopped in their observation area, showing that a physical presence on the border can work.
The group wants foreigners coming into the United States to do so through legal immigration channels and official U.S. ports of entry.
Simcox said the citizens' effort will now continue under the name Civil Homeland Defense. He said his group has about 15,000 volunteers ready to set up camps along U.S. borders, and will continue to do so until the federal government orders the military to the regions.
"I'm here this week to bring a very simple, blue-collar message to our elected officials," Simcox said. "... the people are going to pick up the slack from this point on. We must take care of our own property. We must secure our borders. We must protect our neighbors and our families and our way of life."
"While our soldiers, men and women, are fighting for the cause on foreign soil, it's time we begin fighting for the cause here in America on our own soil," he added. "My message is direct and is simple, and it's a challenge. We challenge the federal government to relieve us from duty."
Simcox said the group will start in New Mexico, and then move to California and Texas, and also to northern border states.
"We're going to seal that border as citizens, from the Gulf of Mexico to the Pacific Ocean," he said. "There's no compromise. That's my message."
Members of the immigration reform caucus also heard from Charles "Chuck" Floyd, a retired U.S. Army officer and former manager for the State Department's Overseas Buildings Operations. Floyd presented the caucus with a four-page plan that calls for a multilayered, integrated security system for the borders, including $12 billion in emergency spending.
The plan also calls for DHS to merge the bureaus of Customs and Border Protection and Immigration and Customs Enforcement "so one agency is responsible for the total illegal immigration services issue." Such a merger has been suggested by some lawmakers, as well as current and former DHS officials.
Floyd said he is hoping to be appointed by Bush to an open slot within DHS, hopefully in the area of border security.
Some lawmakers in the caucus expressed support for sending the military to the borders.
"I support utilizing troops on the border to supplement the U.S. Border Patrol," said Rep. Virgil Goode, R-Va. "I think it would send a strong message that the United States means 'no' to illegal immigration."
Rep. J.D. Hayworth, R-Ariz., agreed.
"National security dictates protection of our borders," he said. "This is the irony. In this war on terror, we have put in place elements of our military on the borders of Iraq and Afghanistan. If we are willing to help protect those countries' borders, shouldn't we do the same in America?"
Critics, however, think that efforts such as the Minuteman Project are distorting the image of immigrants in the United States.
Priscilla Monico, a student at George Washington University in Washington, came to Wednesday's press conference out of concern that rhetoric against illegal immigrants is dehumanizing those in the Hispanic community.
"I think our community is hard-working and I think that they deserve a right to come here," she said, adding that her mother migrated here from Colombia. "I'm concerned that it's going to come down to people having misinterpretations of what the Latino community is."
She said she knows immigrants who are in the country illegally, and they mean no harm.
"It's a matter of feeding your family, and I think that Americans sometimes forget the humanistic aspect of this," she said. "You have to understand that people are trying to live; they're just trying to survive. It's not like they're trying to scam the United States or anything like that."