PHOENIX - A proposed new law would make felons out of members of the Minuteman Civil Defense Corps - and probably some neighborhood watch groups.
The proposal by Rep. Kyrsten Sinema, D-Phoenix, does not name names. But she admitted to Capitol Media Services it i specifically aimed at the Minuteman organization "and other vigilante groups'' that patrol the border looking for those entering the country illegally.
The purpose of the measure was not lost on Chris Simcox, stat director of the Minuteman group. He said the measure is not only unjust but also unconstitutional, violating both the right to assemble peacefully and the right to bear arms.
But Sinema said the government already infringes on these rights - and apparently in a legal way. She noted, for example, that state law spells out there are certain places where someone cannot carry a gun.
Whether it ever gets before a court is doubtful: All of th sponsors, like Sinema, are Democrats in a Legislature controlled by Republicans.
In essence, Sinema's proposal would be taking two activities that are legal - civilian patrols and carrying a gun - and defining them as domestic terrorism if done together.
"Her bill would render all neighborhood watch groups illegal, as well as the Guardian Angels,'' Simcox said. "And anyone who is not sponsored or sanctioned by a law enforcement agency would be deemed to be illegal.''
Sinema, however, said there is a difference.
"Block watches are neighborhood groups that coordinate on a regular basis with law enforcement officials in their state,'' she said. "But we don't have block watch people who strap on their weapons, put a flag in their hat, and then go and sit on the street who is going to shoot the person who is going to jaywalk.''
The difference, she said, should be obvious.
"You and I both know who those people are,'' Sinema said.
She conceded, though, that nothing in her measure requires som proof that a person intended to harm anyone else befor conviction as a domestic terrorist: Merely patrolling with weapon would be enough. But Sinema, who is an attorney, said tha omission was on purpose.
"If you include a definition of 'intent' in the statute and if anything ever were to go to court, then obviously you'd have t be able to prove intent,'' she said, something that can prov difficult.
Simcox said his organization is interested only in reportin illegal activity - in this case, crossing into the United State at places other than official entry points.
And he said Sinema's failure to include "intent'' language proves his point: While Sinema wants to put the Minuteman Civil Defense Corps out of business, it actually casts a much wider net.
"There's no difference other than citizens supporting law enforcement by reporting suspicious activity to them,'' Simcox said.
Sinema insisted that letting these groups patrol the border set a bad precedent.
"What if they decided that the job was going after African-Americans, or the job was to go after people who are lesbian and gay, or to go after people who are Jewish?'' she asked.
Sinema agreed that it is not illegal to be black, gay or Jewish.
But she said there is little difference, as being in the United States illegally is a civil violation, though actually crossin the border at other than a checkpoint is a federal crime.