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Minuteman patrols ready to return to Arizona border

ARIZONA DAILY STAR | March 21, 2006
By Brady McCombs

Minuteman Civil Defense Corps volunteers will return to Arizona in two weeks with the aim of shining the national media spotlight on the problem of illegal immigration again.

Love or hate 'em, those who follow the illegal immigration debate say the original Minuteman Project conducted in April 2005 in Cochise County and a subsequent patrol in October brought increased national attention to the Arizona stretch of the U.S.-Mexico border. Some even credit the group with pushing legislators to create border enforcement bills.

"Clearly, the success of the Minuteman project and its relatively mature conduct helped create an environment where the House enforcement bill could pass," said Mark Krikorian, executive director of the Center for Immigration Studies, an anti-immigration think tank in Washington. "Even in the Senate, which is much more hostile to immigration enforcement, the pro-enforcement climate that the Minuteman contributes to is making it more difficult for the open borders and amnesty people to get their way."

David Spener, a sociologist at Trinity University in San Antonio, is less complimentary but acknowledged the group has made an impact. He said the group has played on long-standing anti-immigrant sentiments and concerns about national security to get disproportionate media coverage.

"The Minuteman's impact is entirely symbolic," Spener said. "There's not enough of them doing anything real to make any difference with immigration whatsoever. What they are able to do is get certain people in the political sector upset."

That's exactly the motive of the group, said President Chris Simcox. In addition to assisting the Border Patrol by spotting illegal entrants, the group aims to bring attention to the porous borders.

"I think we've clearly been the catalyst that has sparked the national debate," Simcox said. "That's been our goal, to bring national attention to the fact that the government has failed miserably to bring control to the southern border."

Simcox said he is expecting about 1,000 Minuteman Civil Defense Corps volunteers in Arizona for the April patrol, "Secure Our Borders." Arizona director Stacey O'Connell said he's expecting about 250. Simcox said the group counts 6,500 volunteers in 31 chapters, although the number is unsubstantiated. He said each volunteer passes a criminal background check, interview and training.

The monthlong patrol is scheduled to start April 1 with a rally at a private ranch south of Three Points that will feature speeches from current and former lawmakers; Rep. Russell Pearce, Randy Graf, Don Goldwater; and conservative radio personalities Bay Buchanan and Charles Heller.

Simcox said the group chose to patrol the Altar Valley this year (it was in Cochise County in 2005) because it's the most heavily trafficked corridor this fiscal year. He said the group will also conduct patrols in New Mexico, Texas and California on the U.S.-Mexico border and in Washington, New York and Vermont on the U.S.-Canada border.

Border Patrol spokesman Johnny Bernal said Minuteman Civil Defense Corps volunteers have not broken laws or violated civil rights in their past patrols.

Yet, much to the group's displeasure, many still call the group racist or vigilantes.

"The thing we objected to here is it brought out a lot of nativist sentiment and that's not America at its best," said the Rev. Robin Hoover, president of Tucson-based Humane Borders.

Earlier this year in San Juan Capistrano, Calif., organizers of two local parades denied the Minuteman Project civilian border patrol group permits because of the group's political nature.

In January, the National Human Rights Commission, a Mexican government-funded agency with independent powers, cited Minuteman as the reason it decided against distributing Humane Borders maps that show watering points and distances. The agency said it "rethought" the decision because it feared the maps would show those opposed where entrants would gather.

Simcox called the claims that his group represents a threat to illegal immigrants "outrageous" and said none of the group's members has attacked anyone.

Hoover doesn't object to bringing more attention to the border but said the group's patrols are unrealistic and ineffective. He would like to see them set up camp in remote areas rather than close to highways and towns. "We have 300 miles of border down here and they are playing around on 5 miles," Hoover said.

Krikorian called the vigilante claims exaggerated and said the group is nothing more than a neighborhood watch group. He said good behavior is what has earned the group political power.

Simcox said the group will continue to plan monthlong patrols every six months until the federal government gains control of the border.

"If the Senate does not pass a border security bill soon, you are going to see our numbers double probably by the end of the summer," Simcox predicted. "People are frustrated and I think this political process of coming to the border and setting up a lawn chair and saying, 'We have the will to do it,' sends a strong message to Washington, D.C."

On StarNet From the archives, see photo and video coverage of last year's Minuteman gathering in Tombstone at azstarnet.com/border

By the numbers

● Minuteman Civil Defense Corps
6,500
Members according to leader Chris Simcox
31
Chapters nationwide
3
Chapters in Arizona: Tucson, Phoenix and Cochise County
600
Volunteers in Arizona


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