In February, more than 2,200 immigrants were released from detention due to budgetary savings measures much to the dismay of the GOP. Since then, immigration politics have been changing within the Republican party. In light of this, according to the New York Times, “A strategy report from the Republican National Committee urged the party to embrace legalization measures for illegal immigrants in the country. On Tuesday, Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky, a favorite of the Tea Party, also called for a path to legal status for those immigrants, saying they should be treated with ‘understanding and compassion.’” How these statements will be taken by other conservatives is unsure though it can be sure that it will not be agreed upon by all lawmakers, civilians, and notably militia groups like the Minutemen.
Immigration politics in this country have been tense for a while, especially in states like Arizona which has had a crackdown on illegal immigrants since 2010 both through state laws and the border-patrolling Minutemen who would not likely stand behind the remarks by Senator Paul. In Harel Shapira’s forthcoming book Waiting For José: The Minutemen’s Pursuit of America, Shapira explores who these Minutemen are. Shapira exposes that contrary to their simplistic depiction as right-wing fanatics, their desires to take on this job are also due to their longing for a sense of soldier camaraderie, identity and experience as well as nostalgia for an older America. Shapira examines who they are by neither condemning nor praising them; rather he looks for other reasons besides racism or anti-immigrant sentiment that draws these men to the border.
They live in the suburbs of Tennessee and Indiana. They fought in Vietnam and Desert Storm. They speak about an older, better America, an America that once was, and is no more. And for the past decade, they have come to the U.S. / Mexico border to hunt for illegal immigrants. Who are the Minutemen? Patriots? Racists? Vigilantes?
Harel Shapira lived with the Minutemen and patrolled the border with them, seeking neither to condemn nor praise them, but to understand who they are and what they do. Challenging simplistic depictions of these men as right-wing fanatics quick on the trigger, Shapira discovers a group of men who long for community and embrace the principles of civic engagement. Yet these desires and convictions have led them to a troubling place.
Shapira takes you to that place–a stretch of desert in southern Arizona, where he reveals that what draws these men to the border is not simply racism or anti-immigrant sentiments, but a chance to relive a sense of meaning and purpose rooted in an older life of soldiering. They come to the border not only in search of illegal immigrants, but of lost identities and experiences.
Harel Shapira is an assistant professor of sociology at the University of Texas, Austin.
Keep an eye out for the book scheduled to be released in May 2013.