Border watchers have eyes on Texas
After Arizona, the Minutemen may bring their armed patrol to the Lone Star State
Houston Chronicle | April 6, 2005
By IOAN GRILLO
ON THE U.S.-MEXICO BORDER - With the Lone Star flag flying and a pistol and knife on his belt, a Houstonian, who gave his name as Bill Breaux, stood on top of his pickup and stared through binoculars at the mountainous Arizona-Mexico border.
He was looking for migrants trying to sneak into the United States. But on this sunny day, there was not much action.
"I think I saw some little guy's head earlier, but then he ducked into the bushes," said Breaux, 48, a resident of Houston's north side, who declined to say where he works.
Breaux was proudly manning Base 4 of a monthlong volunteer border patrol they call the Minutemen Project.
200 volunteers at posts
In the first few days of the patrols, which started Sunday, about 200 volunteers from across the United States have taken up positions along a 23-mile stretch of border around the Arizona towns of Naco and Douglas.
Project organizer Chris Simcox and others said they plan to organize similar border-watch projects in Texas and other states.
During eight-hour shifts, the volunteers stared at the desert, ate sandwiches and told swarms of journalists why they believe undocumented immigrants need to be kept out of the United States. When someone saw anything suspicious, he called the Border Patrol.
"This is what homeland security should look like from the Gulf of Mexico to the shores of the Pacific Ocean," said Simcox, a newspaper owner from the nearby town of Tombstone, who was driving around inspecting the bases.
"I have been in contact with some Texans who are very interested in doing a Minuteman project there," he said. He did not identify the people or specify any dates for such a project.
Simcox said he is organizing a national picketing project for June in which volunteers will demonstrate against selected businesses that employ illegal immigrants.
"We are going to name and shame the guilty employers," Simcox said.
He said the volunteers had assisted the Border Patrol in the detentions of more than 100 undocumented migrants on Saturday evening.
However, Border Patrol spokesman Jose Maheda could not confirm these figures, saying only that the agency had received no more calls from citizens than any other night.
Triggering false alarms
Maheda said the volunteers had stumbled into several Border Patrol sensors designed to locate intruders, causing the government agents to spend hours checking out false alarms.
Sunday, the first full day of citizens' patrols, the volunteers did not sight any border crossers in U.S. territory, a sign that Simcox claimed as a victory.
"No illegals crossing. Nothing. We win," he said.
Patrols by armed volunteers, who have voiced criticism of illegal immigrants and U.S. border security, have raised concerns that migrants might encounter violence.
On the Mexican side of the border, agents in orange jumpsuits from the government migrant aid agency were driving around warning people where the volunteers were stationed. Many of the migrants were likely going to other sections of the border, said Bertha de la Rosa, director of Grupo Beta in the border town of Aguaprieta.
"It is our duty to alert our citizens to the danger of armed vigilantes here," de la Rosa said through the spiked fence, as a group of volunteers on the U.S. side posed with their pistols for photographers.
Many of the volunteers were carrying pistols, taking advantage of Arizona laws that allow people to openly carry firearms, even without a license. Some of the border watchers also wore bulletproof vests and camouflaged clothing.
Simcox said the real success of the project was the media attention it had won. Hundreds of radio, television and newspaper reporters from as far away as Germany descended on the south Arizona desert.
"This is a political protest," he said. "We are sending our public servants a message to remind them that they work for us, and we want national security."
Immigration officials believe that many of the 10 million undocumented migrants in the United States came over the Arizona-Mexico border. Last year, the Border Patrol detained 490,000 people here, nearly half of the 1.1 million total caught along the entire border and returned to Mexico.
Simcox and his co-organizer, Jim Gilchrist, a retired accountant from Aliso Viejo, Calif., said the project is strictly about law and order and they have nothing against legal immigration.
However, some of the volunteers who manned the watch posts said they came to the border because they are concerned about the effect immigrants have on American society.
"There is a real problem with assimilation," said Breaux, the Houstonian. "Around Houston there are a lot of people who won't carry American or Texas flags on their car. Instead they carry a flag from El Salvador or Mexico."
Volunteer Chad Robinson, 50, of Phoenix, said he is worried about diseases that he says immigrants bring.
Effort has critics
Ray Ybarra, a member the American Civil Liberties Union, which had its own volunteers observing the border watchers, said the real agenda of the Minuteman Project is to fight the influence of nonwhite cultures on American society.
"They are scared of the Latino influence on the American Southwest," he said. "But American culture is always changing."
Minutemen volunteer Ron Mills, 35, a schoolteacher from Phoenix, said he has nothing against Latinos and has a Mexico-born wife. He said he came to the border to protest illegal immigrants jumping the queue for work visas.
Mills said that his wife's parents were upset by his participation in the project.
"They are not happy with me," he said. "But I tell them if immigration was all legal, it would be a lot less dangerous. No one dies coming into the United States at an airport."