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Border watch opponents gear up for fight

North County Times | May 24, 2005

As summer approaches and the likelihood grows of a Minuteman Project-style border watch along the U.S.-Mexican border, a coalition of San Diego activists is making preparations to prevent that from happening.

On Saturday, a group of about 30 pro-immigrant activists met at San Diego City College to float ideas on how they can convince groups like Border Patrol Auxiliary and Friends of the Border Patrol that they are not welcome in San Diego, a spokesman for one of the groups said.

"And if they come, we will have a response and use our First Amendment rights to oppose (them)," said Christian Ramirez, director for the San Diego office of American Friends Service Committee. The committee is a worldwide organization that promotes peace and social justice.

"Everybody has told us we have to do something about it," he said. "(The meeting) was the first step toward creating a united front to express our opposition to projects like the Minuteman Project and Friends of the Border Patrol."

Minuteman Project member Nancy Hubbard said her group is just trying to uphold the law.

"I don't believe that open borders are what most people in the U.S. want," said Hubbard, a Temecula resident.

In April, the Minuteman Project drew national media attention, when hundreds of its members ---- many of them armed ---- converged on the U.S.-Mexican border in Arizona to watch for illegal immigrants and report them to the U.S. Border Patrol.

One of the men who helped organize the Minuteman Project's Arizona efforts was Jim Chase. Chase heads up the Oceanside-based Border Patrol Auxiliary, a group that is not associated with the U.S. Border Patrol. Earlier this month, Chase announced that he is organizing a similar border watch for east San Diego County starting in August. He could not be reached for comment Monday.

However, Hubbard, who was involved in the Arizona border watch, said she and many others will be on the San Diego County border with Mexico this summer.

"It makes sense for us to go there, because the government will not do its job and so it's the job of the people to defend this country," said Hubbard.

Andy Ramirez, director of Chino-based Friends of the Border Patrol, said Monday that his group may be fielding up to 500 citizens in its border watch efforts, which should go 24 hours a day, seven days a week for one month, starting in August.

He stressed that his group is in no way affiliated with Chase's group and will be operating with strict orders not to have any interaction or attempt to apprehend any suspected illegal immigrants.

"They will be observing and identifying illegal aliens crossing the border and reporting to the Border Patrol, "and then, we'll get out of the way," Andy Ramirez said.

And while the Minuteman Project also touted its efforts as being purely to observe and report, many volunteers carried weapons, which they claimed were for self defense purposes only.

Hubbard said during the Arizona project, two incidents occurred in which two people who had signed up with the group, "tried to provoke incidents, but they didn't happen."

"There are certain people who want bad things to happen, then people will say, 'see ---- if the minutemen weren't here, then these things wouldn't have happened," Hubbard said.

The overriding concern expressed by both Christian Ramirez and other immigrant advocates was the possibility of acts of violence.

"I'm (worried) that these groups will try to come to San Diego to provoke acts of violence," Ramirez said.

One of the groups in the coalition that is being formed is called Border Angels, a group of volunteers that places bottles of water along the border for illegal immigrants to drink on their journey north.

Enrique Morones heads the group and was one of the organizers of Saturday's meeting.

"We are totally against these guys (the border watch groups)," Morones said Monday. "We are concerned they may act in a criminal manner and abuse civil and human rights."

National Border Patrol Council president T.J. Bonner said that the East County area along the border is a very dangerous place and the violence could come from the drug smugglers and gangs that prey on illegal immigrants and the "coyotes" who smuggle them. The union represents rank-and-file Border Patrol agents.

"Our agents are shot at all the time and I surely would hate to see somebody that is just trying to make a statement get caught up in the cross fire down there," Bonner said.

Both Friends of the Border Patrol's Andy Ramirez and Minuteman Project member Hubbard say they are also concerned that violence may occur if observers tangle with the smugglers.

"I am extremely concerned about any incidents that may take place," Ramirez said.

He noted that his group will be using satellite technology to carefully study the landscape, to avoid some of the more remote and inaccessible spots in the east county, where volunteers would be far from help, if it is needed.

Hubbard said that if bad things occur, President George Bush will have to take responsibility.

"If the government was doing its job, there wouldn't be possible confrontations," Hubbard said. "The blame goes back to George Bush, who is welcoming them with open arms; I believe he is responsible."

Groups like American Friends Service Committee are very misguided, she said, and she resents the fact that they look down their noses at the Minutemen Project, which is simply doing what has to be done to protect the country, she said.

"They feel they are doing something wonderful and are morally superior in some way, like we are mean spirited and they are holier than thou," Hubbard said.

If immigrant advocacy groups feel so strongly that immigrants are to be pitied, "Why don't these people take them into their homes, pay their insurance bills and buy them a house, but don't expect us to do it," she said.



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