This month I found myself walking from the U.S. Capitol steps to the foot of the grounds with a group of Minutemen preparing to launch a media-attracting rally to their cause.

I walked with Robert Lauten of Brea, Calif., who was explaining to me, “The open border policy is part of NAFTA, CAFTA and free trade,” suggesting the horror of it all was self-explaining. Further, he claimed the U.S. Senate wanted to attach amnesty to George Bush’s guest-worker proposal. The “open border is one leg of the octopus.” he said. Then he walked on, carrying a sign reading, “NO Amnesty NO Guest Worker Programs NO Deceit.”

There was no particular reason for Mr. Lauten to know photographer Wilhelm Scholz and I had traveled this past summer from Alaska to the Dominican Republic to Oaxaca, Mexico, and then to the Arizona desert, probing what the American Dream looks like to the people of this century.

The 19th century idea arose when the United States needed a unifying theme for nation-building. The north-south divide would soon become conflict, Immigrants were filling up the cities. Southern plantation culture saw itself threatened by northern industrial cities. The financial structure was little help in overcoming recessions. New technology was displacing the old ways (trains vs. steamboats). And people sought farmland when the nation wanted western expansion.

That was the United States when Abraham Lincoln became president. The response was the invention of the American Dream.

Scholz and I went to Alaska to see “the last frontier” after the western expansion was completed. There we saw a burgeoning Latino community, many of them immigrants and migrants, in Anchorage and in smaller places, occupied in all walks of life. The transnational border is crossed there every day with Internet and e-mail communications to remote, often tropical, villages and towns. Most have families afar. While not with them, they keep hearts warm and are never far away from this remote location,

In Santo Domingo, we saw more than we expected – how the border for some is the choppy Mona Passage in the Caribbean, the strait separating Hispañola from Puerto Rico. There we met an aspiring baseball trainee. If he doesn’t make it into the professional ranks in the United States, he will go to Italy, where his mother works as a domestic, to play ball.

From Oaxaca we could see how some farm villages are called “towns with no men” because they have left their plots to become farmworkers in Mexican, U.S. and sometimes Canadian agriculture to put fruits, nuts and veggies on North American tables. There we saw how local people like world-famous artist Francisco Toledo join in rebuilding the local economy while workers abroad sustain their families with remittances.

We arrived in Arizona at a time when 151 people had died in that state’s desert crossing into the United States. In the next three weeks, 177 were dead.

The Minuteman Project leaders will not tout the visible fact their patrols scare human traffickers into some of the most remote and dangerous areas for humans to cross. The needed fight is not against these low-wage workers and their families but against those who profit from their desperate situation. Nor do the Minuteman Project leaders condemn by name the extremists, like the paramilitary Ranch Rescue, nor do they applaud the brave young people connected with No More Deaths who go out and try to save dehydrating lives.

Regardless of pretext to safeguard this country, not one terrorist has been captured by these extremists. However, we do know that last year 279 people died in the Arizona desert trying to join in the American Dream.

Mr. Lauten and colleagues are correct in one respect. The issue is about free movement. When the Clinton administration had a chance to change the proposal that became the North American Free Trade Agreement with environmental and labor provisions, not much came of it. There was a chance to recognize, as has the European Union, that people movement goes with trade. One Guatemalan economist had said correctly back in the early 1990s, “You cannot free markets. You can only free people.”

Had we done the right thing then, at least 65 percent of the so-called “illegal immigration” issue would be solved today. Certainly, it would not appear like a crisis.

Don’t let the concern remain in the hands of the kidnappers who hijacked the issue, and now try to commandeer a narrow direction. Sometimes well-meaning, other times paranoiac people have painted cartoons and made stereotypes out of other people’s lives, while calling themselves patriots, heroes and true Americans.

You wonder whether any of them know what is reality going on with our neighbors. I wonder if they eat vegetables.

It seems the border wall proposed by Congress is less for keeping others out as it is to keep us insulated from a realistic vision of the world around us. It doesn’t take a Hubble telescope to see what we need to see.

(c) 2006 Hispanic Link News Service