Last week, as the furor over Arizona's SB 1070 was coming to a head, the late True/Slant posted as one of its final items this intriguing short film about border security, as seen through the eyes of two grizzled and armed border residents. One stalks drug runners, another takes pity on migrants being led by smugglers through brutal terrain. For those who live along the fence, many of whom I've met and interviewed, there is nothing abstract about the debate over border security.
Al Garza is the former executive director and vice-president of the Arizona-based Minuteman Civil Defense Corps. The group disbanded in March. Garza now heads Patriot's Coalition, a conservative activist group with an anti-illegal immigration component. He lives in Huachuca City, Ariz., about 65 miles southeast of Tucson.
M-A: You’re a fifth-generation American of Mexican descent, born in Texas. Why are you in favor of SB 1070?
Garza: It’s simple. We already have the existing federal law that has been in existence for I don’t know how many decades now. All we are doing is mirroring the law, since the government is refusing to enforce any law that has to do with illegal immigration, be it securing the borders, be it employers. We think that these people are untouchable. It just goes on and on.
M-A: Latinos who are opposed to SB 1070 say one of their biggest concerns is that the law, which enables local police to check for immigration status, could lead to racial profiling. What do you think?
Garza: I think it’s nonsense. I have never been profiled. I have lived here all my life. So did my father, and my grandfather and his father. I have never been pulled over by anyone just because of the color of my skin. I am very dark. I consider myself chocolate-colored. I have never been pulled over for my color. SB 1070 has nothing to do with racial profiling. It is interesting to me that people who have some connection to illegal immigrants, and illegal immigrants themselves, are the only ones that have fear of SB 1070.
I have put it to the test. I have stood out there by a gas station, picked up a bunch of brown friends and put on caps and dirty clothes. The cops would come by, and not a thing. I did this last year.
M-A: Have you faced criticism from other Latinos for your support of SB 1070?
Garza: Sure. They call me a traitor. My challenge has always been, “A traitor to whom?" I’m not from Mexico, I’m from the United States. I am an American that just happens to be of Hispanic origin. I don’t find that to be a challenge at all. This is about the rule of law, and enforcing the rule of law and border security. People say, “Isn’t in it inhuman, when these people walk through the desert for a better life?” Why doesn’t Mexico take care of its people?
M-A: What sort of action would you like to see from the federal government?
Garza: It’s really easy. I would like for the border to be secure. I don’t care how they do it. If it calls for the military, that is what it takes. We need to secure the border. We need to enforce immigration laws. We have got to disconnect ourselves from the fact that they are here and we have to provide for them. We don’t have to do anything. We secure the border, and we hold employers accountable for their actions. Take away all the public services. Mexico is not providing for them. We give them what Mexico is unwilling to do for its own people.
M-A: Would you say that SB 1070 has re-energized the anti-illegal immigration activist movement?
Garza: It has probably given us a little more teeth, because we know that we not only make sense, but that we brought up the awareness.