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Students hear local activists on border policy

Chris Coduto/Arizona Daily Wildcat
Isabel Garcia, co-chair of Derechos Humanos, debates border patrol policy with Minuteman Civil Defense leader Chris Simcox on the UA Mall yesterday. Simcox's group came under fire in April when they launched a patrol of the U.S.-Mexico border near Douglas.
By Seth Mauzy
Arizona Daily Wildcat
September 1, 2005
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Local activists confronted controversial border safety issues on campus yesterday in the debate club's first public debate.

Despite the sweltering heat and a late start, a crowd of about 75 observers gathered on Heritage Hill to watch Chris Simcox, president of the Minutemen Civil Defense, and Isabel Garcia, co-chair of Derechos Humanos, debate the question: "Who is responsible for patrolling the border?"

Derechos Humanos is a human rights group that deals specifically with the U.S.-Mexico border. The Minutemen Civil Defense is a civilian activist group that engages in armed patrols of that same border.

Club President Tawfik Maudah began the event by telling the audience that this was not a usual debate.

He also promised more debates throughout the semester on topics including the Sept. 11, tragedy and the war in Iraq.

"There is no winner or loser, no one keeping score," Maudah said. "The main goal here is to educate each other."

Students from both sides of the issue were in attendance, as evidenced by scattered cheering after comments made by both participants. The debate was also interrupted briefly by a passer-by's cries of "We are being invaded."

In her opening statement, Garcia was quick to broaden the topic question and criticize the government for the current border crisis.

"We can talk about who should secure the border, and that will take up some time," Garcia said. "But we need President Bush to have real town hall meetings in border states. We need open congressional hearings because government policy is responsible for legal and illegal immigration."

Simcox was also critical of the federal government's border policies, but his ideas for reform differed sharply from Garcia's.

"The Department of Homeland Security is not taking security of the homeland seriously," Simcox said. He then cited increased security measures in public transportation while lamenting the lack of focus the department has given the nation's international borders.

"We are the ones who should be securing our borders," Simcox said.

Simcox painted a bleak portrait of the borderlands, riddled with criminals and smugglers waiting to prey on the nation's security failures and take jobs away from Americans.

"Arizona is No. 1 in crime in the U.S.; more car thefts, more gang crime," Simcox said. "All we ask is that if you want to come here that you come through the front door and sign a guest book so we know who you are and what your intentions are."

Garcia's characterization of the border was more compassionate and focused on the struggling poor who seek a better life in the United States.

"The notion that they are just criminals lurking in the desert couldn't be further from the truth," Garcia said. "They would like nothing more than to sign a guest book, but they just don't have that option."

Both debaters were in agreement that the current crisis is the result of poor government policy, specifically the North American Free Trade Agreement. Their ideas on how to remedy the problem, however, were starkly divided.

"The problem of the border is not a law-enforcement problem," Garcia said. "What you see at the border has been building since 1994, when the border strategy changed and we started building walls, pushing Mexicans into the desert."

To solve the problem, we need a national dialogue and a fair immigration policy that recognizes the needs of the Mexican people, Garcia said.

"And we need to demilitarize the border," she said.

Simcox's solution called for unspent Homeland Security grants to be reallocated to create a stronger military presence along the border.

"The criminals and smugglers would like nothing better than to see an open border," Simcox said. "A more practical solution would be to get the National Guard and the military securing our borders. Only then will there be no more deaths."

The participants also fielded questions from students and onlookers.

Lynda Cruz, a Latin American studies junior, asked Simcox to explain a videotape depicting members of the Minutemen detaining a border crosser and making him wear a T-shirt reading, "I snuck into this country and all I got was this lousy T-shirt."

Simcox replied the men involved also gave the man food, water and $20, and no charges were pressed because there was no wrongdoing. He blamed the media for using the footage out of context and turning the public against his group.

"The media was wrong," Simcox said. "You have to be careful what you read."

Garcia said that the incident was a prime example of how Simcox's organization "says horrible things," encourages violence and "ferments racism."

Cruz said she was not satisfied with Simcox's response.

"I think it's propaganda," Cruz said. "When the media is critical of him, he says they are wrong, but when he needs statistics to back him up, he cites the media."

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