Working closely with the WorldChanging team is having an effect on my blogging style: I’m finding it harder to post stories that seem purely like bad news. WorldChanging has a hard and fast rule – no doom, just solutions. Unfortunately, on the issues I focus on, that eliminates many of the stories I most want to talk about. But I’m still resistant to publishing stories that are pure, unmitigated bad news.
Which kept me from posting this story for a few days: a group calling itself the “Minutemen Project” is organizing in southern Arizona, planning on running private border patrols to deter illegal immigration from Mexico. Jim Gilchrist, who is helping organize the vigilantes, claims his patrols are designed to “assist” law enforcement – the US border patrol, on the other hand, has asked Gilchrist and his volunteers not to come to the Arizona border, and now plans on monitoring “Minuteman” activities at the same time as they watch the border. Human rights groups, including the ACLU, are also planning on watching the volunteers – who are expected to be armed – and Salvadorean criminal gang MS-13 has threatened to confront the “Minuteman” volunteers. Should make for an interesting month of April in and around Tombstone, Arizona, at the very least.
Yes, I’m worried that porous land borders are a potential terrorist risk (though, I would argue, much less so that our container ports, for instance.) And I agree that legal immigration is preferable to illegal immigration, at minimum because immigrants take tremendous personal risks crossing the US-Mexico border. But a response to complex immigration issues by massing armed civilians on the Arizona border looks like extremely thinly veiled racism to me, as well as a recipe for violent confrontation. (It’s unsurprising that the “Minuteman Project” has been generating extensive interest on racist sites like Stormfront in the past few weeks. As Stormfront poster “311inAZ” puts it: “This will not be a White racialist project, per se, and all that are concerned with our wide open borders are encouraged to apply.”)
There are two reasons that the Bush administration hasn’t extensively cracked down on illegal overland immigration. One is that it’s really hard – the Mexican border is enormous, largely unfenced and runs through some of the most isolated, barren and hostile environments of the US. But the major reason is that a strong crackdown against illegal immigration would be economically disastrous to the US. Millions of low-paying jobs in the United States are filled by illegal immigrants. Because of this uncomfortable truth, pro-business groups often find themselves supporting immigration reform which lowers immigration barriers… and tend to oppose strict enforcement and border control measures.
Which brings us to the subject of robots. (I love a good segue.)
Joshua Davis has a beautiful story in Wired, “La Vida Robot”, which looks at a team of high school students from Carl Hayden Community High School in West Phoenix who build an underwater robot that takes first prize in a national robotics championship, beating a well-funded team from MIT.
All four students on the team are undocumented immigrants from Mexico. This means that Oscar Vasquez, team capitan and ROTC student, discovered that he’s ineligible for military service and the academic scholarships that come with it. He wants to study engineering at Arizona State University, but because he’s undocumented, he’s ineligible for federal loans, and ASU considers him an “out of state” student, more than doubling the in-state tuition to over $10,000 a year. As a result, he’s installing sheetrock in Phoenix.
If this pisses you off as much as it does me, I encourage you to do two things. One, support the “DREAM Act” – S. 1545 – which would enable states to decide to extend scholarship aid to undocumented students who’ve lived in the US for multiple years. And visit the page Wired has set up for the La Vida Robot Scholarship Fund, designed to support the efforts of these amazing young men to go to college. I just wrote them a check and I’m now marginally less angry.