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Minuteman Project Volunteers Face Probe

Associated Press | April 7, 2005

TUCSON, Ariz. - Three volunteers patrolling the border for illegal immigrants were being investigated after a man told authorities he was held against his will and forced to pose for a picture holding a T-shirt with a mocking slogan.

The volunteers said they were members of the Minuteman Project - a monthlong effort that has people from around the country fanned out along the border to report undocumented migrants and smugglers.

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Law enforcement officials have said they fear the project will lead to vigilante violence.

Border Patrol agents called in deputies from the Cochise County Sheriff's Office on Wednesday afternoon to report that an immigrant was detained by three men who identified themselves as project volunteers.

Carol Capas, a sheriff's office spokeswoman, said the 26-year-old Mexican man told agents he was physically restrained and forced to hold a shirt while his picture was taken and he was videotaped.

The shirt read: ``Bryan Barton caught an illegal alien and all I got was this T-shirt.''

Barton is one of the three volunteers. He told agents that they waved the man over to them, offered him food and water, and gave him the T-shirt and money before the Border Patrol arrived.

``All they did was provide water and wait for the Border Patrol,'' Minuteman spokesman Grey Deacon said. ``What's the big deal?''

Deacon said project organizers were told by sheriff's officials that the incident wasn't a problem. But Capas said the investigation was continuing and authorities were reviewing a videotape that Barton provided to deputies.

``We do not have the time nor the patience for anyone attempting to turn this situation into a three ring circus,'' Cochise County Sheriff Larry Dever said in a statement.

Meanwhile, Border Patrol apprehensions of illegal immigrants have dropped notably in the Naco area since civilian volunteers began gathering there. Agency spokesmen credit an increased presence by Mexican authorities south of the border and say it's too soon to tell whether the volunteers are having an impact.

The volunteers, many of whom were recruited over the Internet, plan to watch the border throughout April and report any illegal activity to federal agents.

Except for Wednesday's incident, Border Patrol officials said the volunteers have remained peaceful. However, they have continued to unwittingly trip sensors that alert the agency to possible intruders, forcing agents to respond to false alarms. Authorities said volunteers' footprints have also made if difficult for agents to track illegal immigrants.

Francisco Garcia, a volunteer for a shelter in Altar, Mexico, some 60 miles south of the Mexico-Arizona border, has said the migrants he has encountered have dismissed the Minutemen simply as ``crazy people'' - but for migrants' rights activists the situation is worrisome.

``For us, it's clear to see things could get out of control because those in the migration business are not easily intimidated,'' Garcia said. ``We're afraid an aggression could escalate into an international incident.''

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