Anti-illegal-crosser Web site takes tips - for 99-cent fee
THE ARIZONA DAILY STAR
In the cat-and-mouse game between border agents and illegal
crossers, another would-be player is adding fuel to the volatile debate on
illegal immigration with a new Web site that charges users a fee to turn
But an organizer with an immigrant-advocacy group in Tucson
said NoInvaders.org, the latest Internet Web site to take money from surfers
who report people living in the country illegally, promotes an
us-versus-them scenario that is mean-spirited and divisive.
Kat Rodriguez, of the Coalición de Derechos Humanos, said
that while there's plenty of room for a healthy discussion of immigration
policies, "it's dangerous when you start having this mentality that we're
supposed to be spying on each other."
The Running Springs, Calif., Web site, which started
operating about a month ago, charges 99 cents for every tip submitted. It
also gets $3 for every referral to Reportillegals.com, a sister Web site
that earlier began charging $10 per tip. The Florida site then turns over
the information in a formal complaint to various law-enforcement agencies.
NoInvaders.org creator Jim Wood said he is not out to make
money but to pressure federal agencies to crack down on illegal entrants
across the U.S.-Mexican border.
Immigration authorities - which historically have relied on
tips from citizens to detain and deport illegal border-crossers - and a
national anti-illegal-immigration group expressed reservations about
Russell Ahr, a spokesman with U.S. Immigration and Customs
Enforcement, said his agency does not endorse either Web site. "We've got
our own tip line that people can use for free," he said.
Meanwhile, Ira Mehlman, a spokesman for the
anti-illegal-immigration Federation for American Immigration Reform, said
that while people should have the right to report those who cross the border
illegally, they shouldn't have to pay for providing the information.
But Mehlman said he understands how the Web sites may be
taking advantage of people's frustrations. "The Department of Homeland
Security ought to have a better system in place to allow ordinary citizens
to report suspected violations of our immigration laws. … Very often people
make a report and nothing happens."
The 40-year-old Wood agreed. "The government doesn't do its
job, so we had to build a Web site."
He blames an array of societal and economic ills - including
overcrowded schools - on the country's illegal-immigrant population. Various
estimates put that number between 8 million and 10 million.
"With increased complaint volume and pressure on Washington,
we hope to increase momentum until resolution is obtained," Wood's site
states. Any profits will be used for his Web site and to help politicians
who fight illegal immigration, he added.
As of Thursday, Wood said, users from different states had
posted 30 to 40 tips about suspected illegal border-crossers or companies
that illegally employ them.
Although Wood said he can't guarantee the validity of the
tips submitted, he posts them on his Web site before forwarding them to the
customs agency. To guard against receiving false information, Wood said, the
site is filled with disclaimers and each complaint requires a credit card or
bank account number for easy tracking.
"People know that they can be sued for posting frivolous
information," he said. No one at Reportillegals.com, which states tipsters
can remain anonymous, could be reached to comment.
Contrary to Reportillegals.com, which focuses on information
leading to illegal entrants, Wood's NonInvaders.org also posts a
state-by-state directory of companies dubbed "bad employers" because of
complaints lodged against them. On the list are the names and addresses of
more than 500 Tucson businesses, mostly restaurants, hotels and janitorial
Wood said the directory is part of a federal database of
employers investigated for hiring illegal workers, and his Web site
encourages a boycott of those companies even though the postings lack
specific information. Wood said he plans to keep track online of the
disposition of new leads turned over to Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
U.S. customs and Border Patrol officials said they haven't
noticed a rise in tips coming from either Web site, but added that Internet
complaints would get treated no faster or slower than those from any other
source. They said valid leads are vigorously pursued by agents.
Michael Gilhooly, a customs agency spokesman, said the agency
routinely gets immigration-related tips it evaluates and investigates
according to certain criteria. High-priority leads involve suspected
terrorists, criminals and those who exploit illegal border-crossers.
"The public does not have to worry about our motivation,"
Gilhooly said. "Our motivation is to enforce the country's immigration
In fiscal 2004, which ended in September, the centralized
customs agency tip line, 1-866-DHS2ICE, received more than 27,000 leads,
Gilhooly said because the leads are referred to field offices
across the country, it is difficult to track how many citizen tips lead to
arrests and deportations.
Jose Garza, a spokesman for the Border Patrol's Tucson
Sector, said the agency each month receives 300 to 500 phone tips - many of
"We respond to most all of them," Garza said.
Still, Wood said he plans to be a thorn in the side of
immigration authorities until enforcement is toughened.