Problems with Civilian Border Patrol Corps, Tracy J. Lawson

In the recent years of ever-increasing focus on immigration reform, seemingly connected to the heightened concern about terrorist activity, vigilante civilian groups have emerged to "Do the Job Congress Won't Do." In response, Congress has introduced some proposals to increase border security through the use of volunteer civilian groups. It is unclear whether these proposals are an endorsement of the groups' activities, or an attempt to provide a controlled atmosphere for them. Either way, the proposals for volunteer civilian border patrol groups are problematic. By creating a Civilian Border Patrol Corps, the U.S. Federal Government is encouraging vigilante behavior, undermining the accountability of Border Patrol agents, and putting individuals' civil and human rights at stake.

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The proponents of the creation of a government-backed volunteer civilian border patrol group may argue that creating a program to oversee the volunteers along the border will reduce violence by training and supervising the volunteers. This argument misses the point of the opposition. By inviting civilian volunteers to patrol the border, the government is putting too much power in the hands of citizen volunteers. It is in effect creating a sense of nationalistic authorization for citizens to take actions against other humans that should only be taken by government authorities, who are trained and held accountable to the political system. Volunteers will not get the extensive training that U.S. Border Patrol agents or agents of local law enforcement receive, and they certainly would not face the personal or professional consequences for their actions that employees of law enforcement or border patrol agents do. Private actions or criminal prosecution are possible ways to hold members of civilian border patrol groups or volunteers accountable. However, the likelihood of undocumented immigrants having access to the legal system is highly improbable. Additionally, the criminal justice system has is own limitations, and given the cooperative history of law enforcement and vigilante groups along the border, there is little confidence that justice would be served through this mechanism. Therefore, there are few likely consequences or accountability mechanisms to deter vigilantes or volunteers from acting outside of their authorized scope of actions. This perpetuates the sense of power and entitlement to enforce their own ideals about property, national borders, the threat of terrorism, and immigration in general.

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The creation of a Border Protection Corps is not a viable solution to the problem of undocumented immigration. There is wide consensus along the political spectrum that volume of undocumented immigration is a problem. Obviously, there is little consensus about viable solutions. The problem with border protection corps is that it will not solve, nor likely significantly affect, undocumented immigration. A few hundred, or even a few thousand, volunteers along the border may catch some more immigrants in the act of crossing the border, but the overall forces pushing and pulling immigration to the U.S. will be unaffected. Immigration through these channels will surely continue.

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As stated above, there are various and dangerous consequences to creating a volunteer border patrol backed by the government. Identifying solutions to the problem of inadequate border patrol is complex and difficult. Increasing the number of border patrol agents is one way to increase the confidence in the government's protection of the nation's border, and hopefully would in turn reduce the presence of vigilante groups. As President Bush has suggested, leaving border patrol to U.S. Border Patrol agents is the best way to ensure that what is happening along the border is accountable to political processes enforcing constitutional and civil rights laws. However, although such an action may increase confidence in border patrol efforts, it does not address the dangerous and violent attitudes of those involved in the groups. It is much easier to change or limit an individual's action either by imposing consequences than it is to change a person's worldview. Comprehensive immigration reform and improved foreign policy and relations with immigrant-sending countries are long-term solutions (depending on how implemented) to quelling the forces driving immigration. Unfortunately, these broad, holistic actions are long-term and will not address the urgency some people feel in "fixing" or preventing undocumented immigration. There is really no quick fix and therefore, unfortunately, actions of vigilantes will likely continue.