This operation, organized by an outfit called the Minuteman Project, is stationed along a 23-mile stretch of border near the Arizona towns of Naco and Douglas. The group has announced that patrols in this area will be organized through the month of April with plans in the works to conduct similar operations in Texas and other states along the 2,000-mile U.S.-Mexico border.
The Minuteman Project pitches itself as Americans doing the jobs Congress wont do. It claims these vigilantes are operating within the law to support enforcement of the law.
Many of the volunteers were carrying pistols, taking advantage of Arizona laws that allow people to openly carry firearms, even without a license, said an April 6 Houston Chronicle article. Some of the border watchers also wore bulletproof vests and camouflaged clothing.
According to a Chronicle reporter on the scene, about 200 people from across the United States participated in the first few days of these patrols. Vigilante leaders had said that more than 400 people took part in the first weekends orientation session and rallies. They also claimed 1,300 to take part over the course of the month on a volunteer basis.
The event also seemed much smaller than advertised, noted an April 5 Washington Post article. Organizers had promised to place teams of monitors at quarter-mile or half-mile intervals along a 23-mile length of border. But by midmorning Monday, all of the visible activity was clustered around a two-mile stretch, where a dozen or so teams were stationed.
Chris Simcox, a newspaper owner from the town of Tombstone, Arizona, and a leader of the group, said the majority of the Minutemen are senior citizens, former police officers, and military veterans. This is what homeland security should look like from the Gulf of Mexico to the shores of the Pacific Ocean, Simcox told the Chronicle.
The Arizona chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) has placed legal observers in the area to monitor the Minuteman vigilantes. The Minuteman project has created a powder-keg situation with the potential to go beyond harassment and false imprisonment to real violence, Eleanor Eisenberg, executive director of the Arizona ACLU, told the media.
The Washington Post reported that one of the legal observers, Kathryn Ferguson, a Tucson documentary filmmaker, had had encounters with a lot of verbally aggressive people who called her a terrorist or communist.
Although U.S. president George Bush criticized the Minuteman Project as vigilante activity, the White House took the opportunity to further beef up the number of immigration cops on the scene. On March 30, the Department of Homeland Security announced it was assigning an additional 500 immigration police to the Arizona bordera 25 percent increase.
Mexican president Vicente Fox labeled the Minutemen as immigrant hunters. Mexican government representatives said they would file civil suits against anyone who physically assaults Mexican nationals during this border patrol.
On the Mexican side of the border, Grupo Beta, a government-sponsored organization that tries to discourage people from crossing the border without papers and aids those stranded in the desert, began patrolling the area along with armed police officers. It is our duty to alert our citizens to the danger of armed vigilantes here, said Bertha de la Rosa, director of Grupo Beta in the border town of Agua Prieta. Across this town, on the U.S. side of the border, Minutemen posed with their pistols for photographers, reported the Chronicle.
On April 6, two Minutemen patrollers harassed and held an immigrant worker against his will. José Antonio Sepúlveda, 25, of Sinaloa, Mexico, was forced by Bryan Barton to be photographed and filmed with a T-shirt that read, Bryan Barton caught me crossing the border and all I got was this lousy T-shirt. He was also then given some food, water, and $20, and is now being held in federal custody.
Robin Hvidston, a 50-year-old real estate agent from Upland, California, who has joined this rightist action, wears a button declaring her to be an Undocumented Border Patrol Agent, according to Reuters. The volunteers say they have spotted 300 immigrants and tipped off Border Patrol agents to help catch them during the first week of the project, Reuters said. They are planning a Minuteman Two later in the year.
There is a real problem with assimilation, Bill Breaux, a Minuteman from Houston, told the Chronicle. Around Houston there are a lot of people who wont carry American or Texas flags on their car. Instead they carry a flag from El Salvador or Mexico.
In 2004, immigration cops rounded up about 1.1 million undocumented immigrants along the border area and returned them to Mexico.
In another development, Washington is phasing in a program known as US-VISIT, which requires Mexicans and other immigrants to be fingerprinted and photographed when they enter the United States. Eventually, their departure from the United States will be recorded in this system as well.
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