Border-Watch Group to Stop Patrols
The Minuteman Project says it will focus on protesting businesses that employ illegal migrants and push for immigration reform.
Los Angeles Times | April 21, 2005
By David Kelly
DENVER — The Minuteman Project, which attracted international attention by putting armed civilians along the Arizona-Mexico border to deter illegal immigration, announced Wednesday that it was entering a new phase and would stop its patrol activities.
The roughly 750 volunteers, organizers said, would remain in the border area through April under the direction of Civil Homeland Defense, a Tombstone, Ariz., group similar to the Minuteman Project.
The project will focus on protesting businesses that employ illegal immigrants, pushing for immigration reform and organizing Minuteman branches nationwide.
Leaders Jim Gilchrist and Chris Simcox are scheduled to speak before the Congressional Immigration Reform Caucus in Washington next week.
"Mr. Gilchrist helped develop the Minuteman Project, and he is taking it to Washington," said Gray Deacon, a spokesman for the group.
"But the Minutemen are not going anywhere. We are duty-bound to do what we promised, and we promised to stay through April. We have just as many stations, just as many volunteers, and none of us are laying down our lawn chairs and walking away."
Deacon said the group had been instrumental in the arrests of 283 illegal immigrants.
Gilchrist, a retired accountant from Aliso Viejo, Calif., said his goals had been accomplished sooner than expected.
"Because of the phenomenal success of this grass-roots project in such a short time, the Minuteman Project has declared an unconditional victory in its efforts," he said in an open letter to supporters Wednesday. "We have simultaneously brought national awareness to our national security crisis, of which porous borders and illegal alien and drug traffic are components. The Minuteman Project will take the next few months to reorganize, expand, and to become larger, better, stronger."
The patrols — which in addition to serving as a deterrent were intended to attract media attention and embarrass the Bush administration into doing more to police the nation's borders — began April 1. Volunteers came from across the country to sit along a 23-mile stretch of border from Douglas to Naco, Ariz. The area is the busiest crossing point for illegal immigrants in the country, with 500,000 arrests last year.
Using binoculars and two-way radios, participants who spotted migrants alerted the Border Patrol, whose leaders did not welcome the assistance. President Bush had called them vigilantes; human rights groups and some Arizona officials said they were racist and wrong-headed.
The Border Patrol said last week that illegal immigrant traffic where the Minutemen were stationed had dropped 50%. Andy Adame, spokesman for the Border Patrol's Tucson sector, credited the presence of the Mexican army across the border with the decrease. Others said that, rather than forcing a decrease in immigrant traffic, the Minutemen probably had funneled people to less-guarded entry points.
Rep. Thomas G. Tancredo (R-Colo.), who backs strict border controls and met with the Minutemen recently, said he had asked organizers to end their mission early.
"I told them to pull the plug on it," he said. "They have drawn the attention of the American government, they got the attention of the Mexican government, and they have proven they aren't just a bunch of Bubbas."
Ray Borane, the mayor of Douglas, said the effort had been "very superficial and clearly insincere."
"It doesn't surprise me that they ended it," he said. "As soon as the media packed up and left, they left as well. All they accomplished was being a hindrance to the Border Patrol and creating international hard feelings. Their biggest accomplishment was getting the media's attention. It was, as the Mexicans say, all song and no opera."
But Minuteman leaders have promised an encore if there is no progress toward safeguarding the border by October.
"We'll be back. We can put between 10,000 and 21,000 people on the border in all four Southwestern states," Deacon said.
"We will close down the border the way we closed this section. Our message is very clear — we want our government to secure our borders."