Here’s a thought. What if illegal immigrants really aren’t America’s worst nightmare? A lot of energy has been spent insisting that they are, but are they really as dangerous as, say, zombie banks? Or as evil as retention bonuses?
In truth, our biggest domestic menace never was waiting outside Home Depot, hoping to clean your basement. Unauthorized immigrants are not about to destroy anything, not even when they get angry and loud and march in large groups. On the contrary, they are inspiring. Their ethic of self-reliance and hard work is one that Americans should recognize and celebrate.
Exhibit A: Riverside, Calif., where I went recently to watch immigrant advocates march against the Border Patrol.
Riverside is 100 miles from Mexico, but the Border Patrol has an office there. Its agents have accused supervisors of imposing arrest quotas — 150 illegals a month — that forced them to swoop into day-labor corners and bus stops to keep their numbers up.
The marchers wanted to make the point that arresting people in bulk because they look Hispanic is grossly unconstitutional. They wanted to denounce the raids as a cruel misuse of crime-fighting resources — fishing for minnows instead of sharky predators.
The day of the march dawned wet, cold and calm. The crowd at City Hall grew to about 300, then set off for the Border Patrol office, three miles away. They looked like any Americans, though maybe more cheerful. They chanted and sang and got soaked. The ink on their signs bled. They looked like poor people marching for a better life, the kind we root for in movies like “The Grapes of Wrath.”
Drivers gave friendly honks, but not everyone was nice. A guy on a townhouse balcony silently held up a Confederate flag as the Latinos marched by. When he saw my camera, he became a frightened little man. He whipped the flag behind his back, as if it were a dirty magazine.
At the march’s end, a band of Minutemen with American flags and bullhorns was waiting across the road. “We support the Border Patrol!” they yelled over four lanes of blacktop. “Viva la Migra!”
I had thought these outnumbered soldiers might be tense. But I saw no fear, only loathing. It was a party! I met a smiling man named Jim. “What’s your heritage?” he asked. As immigrant sons, we talked about what a great country it was.
I asked him why we couldn’t all just get along. He said because these aliens were not the good Ellis Island kind. They were soaking California for billions in social-service tax dollars while hatching evil schemes. “Reconquistas,” he called them, citing a Mexican plot to seize the U.S.A. through mass migration. It’s fictional, but Jim believed it.
He gave me his card.
Mr. Gilchrist founded the Minutemen. I asked for a picture. He pointed to a tree and suggested posing there.
“With a noose hanging from it?” he said.
“With a noose hanging from it?”
I asked him to repeat it again. He said he was joking. I tried to make the words fit together as humor, but couldn’t.
I went to the Latino side, where the singing was better. The speeches were interrupted when shoving broke out on the Minuteman side. Uh-oh.
I ran over and got Mr. Gilchrist out of a huddle. He told me one of his troops had been spit on by a reconquista. He was keeping everybody calm while the victim, a frail-looking woman, got ready to press charges.
A police officer was taking statements. A lawyer for the marchers, a skinny white guy, put a gentle hand on her shoulder. “Did he really spit on you?” he asked.
“No,” she said, “but he could have.”
It was a Perry Mason moment. But it was more. It was the Minuteman worldview wrapped up in one sad little psychodrama: The alien threat, so scary, yet so imaginary. The officer took note.