SAN DIEGO -- Every movement has its warriors on the front line. When it comes to immigrant rights, that is where you'll find Enrique Morones.
The 56-year-old San Diego native is the founder and leader of Border Angels. Since it began in 1986, the immigrant rights group has gained national acclaim for taking water into the desert for migrants who cross the border and -- more recently -- for taking on politicians who cross migrants by scapegoating them.
Morones is also my compadre, the godfather of my youngest daughter. But that doesn't stop me from criticizing him when I think he deserves it.
A few years ago, I chided him for his liberal politics by saying in a column that while his heart is in the right place, I'm not always sure where his head is. Though he is a dedicated progressive, he is to the right of more militant immigrant advocates.
"There's a lot of truth to the idea that a lot of our values as Latinos, my values, in many things, are Republican," Morones told me. "I'm talking about the old Republican ideology, which has been lost. The family values, religion -- all that, I support."
While he "votes 99 percent of the time for Democrats," he's fed up with games from both sides.
"Who continually attacks us, and causes us harm?" he asked. "Both parties."
In 1998, Morones became the first dual citizen of the United States and Mexico. And in 2009, Mexico's Human Rights Commission awarded him its
I asked how he defines his nationality.
"I was born in the United States," he said. "But I see myself as a Mexican. I'm not Mexican-American. I'm Mexican."
Morones travels to Mexico often. And, when he does, he is not shy about telling people that they need to improve their country.
"I tell them that the future of Mexico is in Mexico, not in the United States," he said
Whether protesting Lou Dobbs' anti-immigrant rants, confronting border vigilantes or shepherding a cross-country caravan to draw attention to the undocumented, Morones gets things done by getting in people's faces.
But what he doesn't get is any credit from the Washington-based immigrant rights' organizations that have turned this cause into a business. He's too radical for them. They tend to ignore the activist -- until they need him.
Morones insists these inside-the-Beltway outfits know more about politics than they do immigrants.
"Many of these people who run these national organizations aren't Latinos," he said. "So they don't really understand the immigration issue like a Latino."
But isn't there enough glory to go around?
"Some people want to be the center of attention," he said. "I only want the opportunity to get in front of more groups."
He'll get his chance now, thanks to the publication of his new book, "The Power of One: The Story of the Border Angels," written with Richard Griswold del Castillo.
The book arrives as Americans begin a debate over immigration reform. One of the things being discussed is whether citizenship should be a deal-breaker.
Morones says no.
"The overwhelming majority of the undocumented couldn't care less about citizenship," he said. "They just want to be documented."
Congress could pass an all-encompassing reform plan or deal with the issue piecemeal. Morones used to prefer the first road. But now -- more disillusioned with the political process -- he'll settle for the second. All he cares about is giving Mexican migrants a safe and legal way to enter the United States.
I asked him, if there are 11 million illegal immigrants and a bill comes that gives legal status to 3 million, would he take it?
"Definitely," he said. "And some people will call me a sellout. And I'll ask them: 'How many of you have ever seen a dead body in the desert?' "
Disappointment has made my friend pragmatic. But it hasn't extinguished his passion.
"So what if we can't get the 11 million," he said. "We'll take the 3 million. We're not going to forget the 8 million. We're going to keep fighting."
Compadre, here's to the fight -- and to those who don't cower from it.
Ruben Navarrette is a syndicated columnist. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.