Minutemen Take Border Battle to 39th Street

There'll be another immigration rally on the city's streets on Saturday, but it won't be the kind seen so far this protest season. The people who'll gather outside the Mexican Consulate on East 39th Street are calling for more—not less—border enforcement and less—not more—immigration.

The lead sponsor is the newly formed New Yorkers for Immigration Control and Enforcement, which a press release says "is open to all Americans and legal immigrants who believe in enforcement-ONLY immigration legislation." It continues: "We represent the diversity and rich culture of the tri-state area, and welcome Americans and legal immigrants of all races, religions, and political affiliations who are united in our common struggle to protect our borders through enforcement-ONLY legislation."

Another sponsor is the New York City chapter of the Minuteman Civil Defense Corps, a unit of about a dozen people that formed a few weeks ago when the larger New York State chapter grew big enough to split into regional groups. (The Civil Defense Corps is one of two similarly named organizations that started out West; the other is the Minuteman Project.) The group's leader is Jason Megill, a 30-year-old son of Canadian immigrants who works as a trader on Wall Street.

"We're really concerned about the lack of border security," Megill tells the Voice. He points to the thousands who sneak across each day, and to 9-11 as an example of where more uncontrolled immigration might lead. "We have to call attention to the fact that this administration doesn't enforce immigration laws." And not just on the border: The Minutemen want to see more "interior enforcement"— cops asking people their immigration status (this is expressly restricted in New York City). Megill believes that would "reduce illegal immigration and reduce crime."

The 11 a.m. rally on Saturday (another group, S.O.S. Borders, is also a sponsor) is part of a planned nationwide day of action in support of tougher immigration laws—an answer to the multi-city, pro-immigration rallies on April 10 and May 1. It's called "Hands Along the Border," a reply to the May 1 events at which pro-immigration activists linked themselves in human chains.

The very House measure that the pro-immigration protests denounced is what N.Y.I.C.E. wants to see become law. "We strongly believe that the problem of illegal mass migration must be solved through the enforcement of immigration laws (like employer sanctions), NOT by rewarding lawbreakers," continues the release from N.Y.I.C.E., whose office number led to an answering machine featuring the voice of a proud supporter. "Therefore we endorse the enforcement-ONLY approach of H. R. 4437, recently passed by the House of Representatives, and oppose amnesty and guest-worker provisions in the corresponding Senate bill, S. 2611." What's more, N.Y.I.C.E. opposes "the massive increase in legal immigration contained in S. 2611, which threatens to overwhelm an already strained immigration bureaucracy, and which would drive U.S. population to over a billion people by the year 2100."

N.Y.I.C.E. offers an equal opportunity critique of the pro-immigration lobby. "We oppose the Left's self-serving encouragement of illegal immigration, which is predicated on the assumption that ethnic special interest groups will increase the Left's own power. We also oppose the business special interests on the Right, who have been using President Bush as a puppet to achieve their long-term goal of opening America to cheap foreign labor." However, the group does not embrace mass deportation, preferring to whittle away at the problem through attrition (Their statement doesn't address what to do about illegal immigrants' children).

The Minutemen in New York haven't garnered the attention that their Western, border-watching counterparts have, but in April Megill and others did head to the Canadian line to keep watch. "People do sneak across, but we didn't catch any, although we would have if we had stayed another day," he says. In Southampton, another Minuteman chapter is videotaping cars that stop to hire illegal immigrants and posting the films online. Megill, who grew up in Iowa and attended the University of Virginia, says the Minutemen conducts a background check on new members to screen out people with criminal records. "We don't want any instigators," he says. Most of the members are "middle-class people who are sick to death."

They aren't alone. Artcamp, or "Artesanas Campesinas," a cooperative of Mexican women that sells handcrafted jewelry, is sending around emails calling on the United States to enforce its border laws and "Help us to Keep Our Husbands Home with our Families." The site features testimonials from women left behind, like:

    Dear Ruben please come home the children have not seen you in three years and little Beto is a young man and Lupita asks about her papa. I know we agreed you should try your fortune in the United States, but I didn't know that it would be so lonely and that you would be gone for such a long time, please return to us.

Meanwhile, with the immigration debate in Washington stuck between two seemingly irreconcilable bills, local pro-immigration activists are turning their attention back to Albany and the issue of immigrants' access to driver's licenses. The New York Civic Participation Project, which helped to organize the big marches in the city this spring, is asking folks to call Majority Leader Joe Bruno and Speaker Shelly Silver in support of bills by Senator Nicholas Spano (S7388) and Assemblyman Felix Ortiz (A612a) "that would allow hard working immigrants in New York State to access licenses and prevent hundreds of thousands of immigrants from being pushed further underground."


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