Ever since their arrival in Springfield about a year ago, the local chapter of the Minuteman Civil Defense Corps has been clamoring for media attention. The chapter of the national group that rails against illegal immigration has tried to insert itself into the local debate, but mostly, the sort of attention it's received — such as when it opposed a Chamber of Commerce program to reach out to local Hispanics — has been negative.
Now the Minutemen are trying to affect city policy. They've convinced new Councilman Doug Burlison to try to add Springfield to the list of cities with special anti-illegal immigration ordinances. It's a bad idea. It's bad because the city's police force can't afford to enforce the laws on the books, let alone new ones. It's bad because the debate over illegal immigration belongs in the federal arena, and local police officers don't want to be shoved into that intense discussion. And it's a bad idea because the source of the proposal is a group that lacks credibility.
Perhaps the Minutemen have what they wanted. The nation is debating illegal immigration, as it should be. And people are paying attention to the group, but for some of the wrong reasons.
In fact, the Minutemen have grabbed the attention of the Southern Poverty Law Center, which tracks hate groups of all sizes and colors. The Minutemen aren't a hate group, but a new class of what the SPLC calls "extremist nativist" groups. They're dangerous, the SPLC says, because they tend to target people, or groups of people, rather than policies.
That became obvious to us when we invited local Minuteman chapter member — and state president — Tom Franiak to speak to the editorial board about the goals of his organization. Franiak criticized Hispanic groups in America for not assimilating, and in the same breath, he criticized the local chamber for a project that was at its heart all about assimilation. The chamber and the Missouri Bar and other groups offered their services to members of the local Hispanic community to help teach them about various legal issues.
Franiak's interpretation was that these respected Springfield organizations would be teaching illegal immigrants how to break the law.
There were so many assumptions gone awry with that approach that it doesn't take a leap of faith to understand why groups such as the Minutemen concern SPLC, which notes that the rise of the Minutemen coincides with a rise in hate groups.
We don't believe the Minutemen are a hate group. And we believe the organization has succeeded in putting political pressure on our nation's leaders to address very real problems with illegal immigration. But beyond that success, we suggest the influence of the group, particularly on a local basis, should be quite limited.
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