As Darleen Click points out, semantics are being used to cloud the debate over illegal immigration — with ordinary words being much misused:

Read almost any story on illegal aliens and the MSM almost without fail refers to illegal aliens as “migrants” or “undocumented workers.” The supporters and advocates of open borders engage in the war of words in an effort to reduce the public awareness that illegal aliens are breaking the law. The recent coverage of the Minuteman Project is a prime example of how semantics is used in attempts to give sympathy to criminals and criminalize law-abiding citizens.
…. people opposed to a illegal alien hotline are accusing it of encouraging a “vigilante mentality.” Hmmmm… I guess it’s only vigilantes that call 911, or neighborhood watch, or drug-tips hotlines to report crimes in process, eh?

There is a clear double standard at work, and it reminds me of how police dispatchers treated me once when I reported a burglary in progress and told her I had a gun. Instantly, her tone changed and she started yelling at me! About the gun! This led to the fastest police response I’d ever had, which included the almost immediate arrival of detectives in suits in an unmarked car alongside the regular cruiser.
“Where’s the gun?” “Where’s the gun?” was the only thing that mattered. The burglar was irrelevant, and it struck me that their primary purpose was not to arrest the burglar (or protect me), but to protect the burglar from me.
(Next time, I might wait a little longer before dialing 911.)
I find it interesting that Americans who are trying to turn illegal immigrants back are called “vigilantes,” while their counterparts (groups like Grupo Beta) are seen as humanitarians:

Agua Prieta, Mexico , Apr 20 – For the past eleven years, Enrique Enriquez Palafox has worked on the Mexican border, rescuing migrants in need of food and water. As an employee with Grupo Beta, a Mexican government-sponsored agency whose mission, “Protecci?n a Migrantes,” is stamped across the back of his jacket, Palafox is accustomed to the constant search for men, women and children lost in the 23 mile-long stretch of desert between the Mexican border towns of Agua Prieta and Naco.
Palafox was carrying out his humanitarian labor as he had for over a decade — without fanfare — when earlier this month a group of American vigilantes calling themselves the Minutemen began setting up lawn chairs along the north side of the border, bringing binoculars, pistols and countless reporters with them.
Since then, with armed border-watchers planted on the US side of the border with the express intent to disrupt illegal immigration and report undocumented immigrants to US authorities, Palafox and other service providers have seen a drop in the number of migrants crossing in the area, but the true impact of the Minuteman Project on migration remains to be seen.
The Spanish-language press has frequently run stories about the Minutemen, complete with footage of armed American civilians patrolling the border. In addition, Grupo Beta has posted flyers along the border and in Agua Prieta, warning potential border-crossers to avoid the area during the month of April.
But Bertha de la Rosa, the coordinator for Grupo Beta in Agua Prieta, thinks the Minuteman presence will have no long-term effect on the status quo. Aa short woman whose friendly smile belies her no-nonsense attitude, she said she believed that for the most part, migrants were not deciding to abandon their journey entirely. She suspected they were merely moving farther west towards the border city of Nogales, or perhaps simply waiting for the Minutemen to go home.
….For Palafox, it was heartening to see the vigilantes wasting their time. “Let them sit there staring at us,” he said. “If you ask me, they are just ignorant racists.”

I guess if the “vigilantes” are “ignorant racists,” the Grupo Beta people must be “intelligent multiculturalists.” (If you like this sort of thing, reliable old Aztlan.net has more.) And WorldNetDaily features this Los Angeles billboard:

mexicobillboard.jpg

What is being lost in this heated debate is that the people crossing the border illegally are by definition engaged in crime. The people trying to stop them may not ultimately be acting in the best interests of their own cause, but they are not criminals. (I don’t mean to belittle anyone or sound overly cynical, but I know from experience that groups like the Minutemen attract agents provocateur like rotten meat draws flies. This “Mexican Family Values” portrayal might amuse my more cynical readership.)
Whether they are in fact “vigilantes” is quite another matter. The term is not easy to define.

Vigilantes regard the criminals and people they target as living outside the social bonds and communal ties that hold our society together. It’s not so much that they dehumanize their target, but that the target represents an alien enemy that must be defended against. The target must also be punished, and punished outside the law. Any and all legal matters on the subject are seen as unnecessary intrusions on the basic freedom that all communities enjoy to protect themselves. Zimring (2004) says that the vigilante mindset is the opposite of the due process mindset. Vigilante thinking is precisely the opposite of any notion of fairness, fair play, or a chance for acquittal. Vigilantes do not care to wait for the police to finish their investigation, and they care less about any court’s determination of proof. What they do care about is justice — quick, final, cost-effective justice. To a vigilante, punishment should be inflicted upon those deserving of it at the first opportunity — no waiting, and the more severe the punishment, the better. These are all romantic notions that feed an appetite for punishment more than an appetite for vengeance.

The author argues that this type of vigilantism ultimately leads to criminal behavior. Yet I have seen no evidence that by attempting to shame the Border Patrol, the Minutemen are engaged in criminal behavior. What they are doing is theatrical and dramatic, but it’s intended to be that way in order to get their point across. Unless they break the law, they simply aren’t lawbreakers. (Similarly, when I grabbed a gun and called the cops, I got a lightning fast police response, but that was hardly vigilantism.)
What bothers me is that the real problem — an unpoliced border, with criminals crossing at will — is being lost in a debate over “vigilantism.”
I mean, why have the border at all if it doesn’t mean anything? And if it doesn’t mean anything, it’s fair for people to ask whether the laws of the United States apply. And where.
UPDATE: La Shawn Barber reports vigilante-like talk from ultraliberal Maxine Waters:

?Why isn?t anyone talking about the Mexican Mafia (a gang of illegal Mexicans that controls the California prison system)?? she thundered. ?I don?t care if you?re pink or purple or white or black or brown, I want you out if you?re committing crimes.? There is no excuse not to control the border, she said. ?I?m a liberal with a capital ?L?,? she said, ?but I?m sick of it.

La Shawn ends with this dire warning to liberals:

The point is that no matter how liberal people may be, everyone has a limit to what they?ll tolerate, and foreign criminals fighting in her district must be hers.
Waters had better be careful with all that ?control the border? talk, though. Her liberal friends might accuse her of being a ?hate-mongering, right-wing anarchist who will stop at nothing to destroy? America?s wide open borders.

Control the borders? Sounds like vigilantism to me!
MORE: According to the Washington Times, the Minutemen are rallying this week in Washington. No word yet on whether Maxine Waters plans to address them.
MORE: Glenn Reynolds, speculating about immigration as the Achilles Heel of the Republican Party, links to this:

The party’s base hates the president’s stance on immigration, and this threatens to sunder the Republican coalition. I remain amazed that the instinct for self-preservation among the big-business and libertarian elements within the party is still so weak that don’t understand their stake in controlling and reducing immigration.

Support for border control transcends (and may be the Achilles heel of) both parties.