President George Bush called them “vigilantes.” Self-appointed “civil rights” activists called them “racists.” The U.S. Border Patrol fretted that they might injure someone or be hurt themselves. And Mexico’s president threatened to haul them into international court.
But the 635 volunteers who compose the Minuteman Project apparently have done what their president, the civil rights hacks, the Border Patrol, and the Mexican government have been unable to do: stem the flood of illegal aliens across a notoriously porous 23-mile stretch of Arizona’s border with Mexico.
The barren stretch is a prime illegal entry point along the Mexico-Arizona border, where last year the U.S. Border Patrol detained 490,000 illegal aliens, nearly half of the 1.1 million caught along the two nation’s entire common border.
Simultaneously, the Minuteman Project has accomplished another major objective as it passes the halfway mark in its one-month campaign as civilian border watchers. Minuteman Project volunteers have drawn widespread interest and attention to the problem of lax protection of the U.S.-Mexico border with news stories reported internationally concerning their efforts.
By last count (April 12), Minuteman Project volunteers had “directly facilitated” 268 Border Patrol apprehensions along the stretch of border previously noted as the most vulnerable area for illegal immigrants to gain access to the U.S.
“The Border Patrol has never been able to shut down the border like we have,” said Chris Simcox, a retired schoolteacher and one of the co-organizers. Simcox previously has lobbied for tighter border controls to stop drug dealers, criminals and potential terrorists from sneaking into the United States. “We’re here to demonstrate that physical presence on the border will seal the border.”
The very presence of the Minuteman Project civilian border patrollers appears also to have been enough to dissuade many illegal immigrants from even attempting to cross. Significantly, apprehension of illegals by the U.S. Border Patrol have ranged from half to one-third the daily number caught prior to initiating the volunteer effort, a testimony that not only have Minuteman Project volunteers been instrumental in helping U.S. authorities apprehend illegal aliens, but also in deterring them.
“It was so well-advertised, it worked, it’s a deterrent," Simcox said shortly after the civilian patrols began.
Although 2,200 Border Patrol agents are assigned to the Arizona-Mexico border and another 500 to be deployed by September, Simcox maintains they have failed to keep illegal immigrants from crossing.
Unlike the U.S. Border Patrol, the civilian patrollers set out only to use their eyes and ears, then report what they find to authorities for apprehension. “We’re not here to catch anyone, that’s not our job,” Simcox said.
The Minuteman Project volunteers also are proving to be exactly what they said they were from day one: nonviolent patriots seeking to awaken the public and their government to the need for effective action to halt the millions of illegal immigrants pouring across the border.
While critics claimed the Minuteman Project would result in vigilante violence, there has been none. Volunteers did, however, rescue a tired and thirsty Mexican, described as dehydrated and emaciated, who had become separated from a group trying to illegally enter the country. The volunteers turned him over to U.S. Border Patrol officials, and he was returned to Mexico. However, one Minuteman volunteer was dismissed from the project for violating the project ban on physical contact with illegal aliens. He had shared a bowl of cereal with him before notifying the Border Patrol. An investigation by the Cochise County Sheriff’s office cleared the volunteer of any legal wrongdoing, according to a Minuteman Project spokesman.
“The volunteer's actions were admirable, justified, and undeniably humane, but unfortunately they jeopardized our established procedures and overall purpose of passively monitoring the border,” Simcox, said. “It’s unfortunate, but we had to dismiss him from further participation.”
Minuteman Project co-organizers James T. Gilchrist, a retired California certified public accountant, and Simcox, who also is publisher of the Tombstone Tumbleweed newspaper, said the volunteers explicitly have been warned not to confront illegal aliens, only to report their presence to the U.S. Border Patrol.
“We mean business, and I assure you we will cooperate fully with federal, state and local law enforcement to identify and prosecute any troublemakers,” Mr. Gilchrist said. “We have conducted extensive background investigations and have eliminated a lot of people. We are confident that those who are here to participate are doing so for the very best reasons.”
“The main mission of The Minuteman Project,” according to the group’s website, “is to bring national attention to the fact that the U. S. Federal Government is not fulfilling its mission to protect American citizens from the economic and physical danger of porous borders. The majority of peace loving Americans are concerned about the ramifications of allowing massive amounts of unscreened, undocumented aliens to just walk right into our country. And of course the greatest fear that lurks in the dark corners of our minds is another 9/11 attack, or worse, a suitcase bomb.”
Opposition to the Minuteman Project from the start has come from the usual suspects. There was Mexico President Vicente Fox, apparently more interested in holding Americans to vague international legal standards than holding Mexican illegal aliens accountable to the American laws they are breaking. There is a Mexican government migrant aid agency, Grupo Beta, whose director proclaimed, “It is our duty to alert our citizens to the danger of armed vigilantes here,” and warned illegals to cross elsewhere rather than the area patrolled by Minuteman volunteers. And of course there is the ever-present ACLU, which turned out “observers” to insure that no illegal aliens’ rights were violated when they were caught breaking the law.
Interestingly, Fox, Grupo Beta and the ACLU can count among their common cause compatriots the Mara Salvatruchas, a Central American gang said by U.S. law enforcement to be deeply involved in cross-border arms-running and drug-smuggling operations, and which has been tied to numerous killings, robberies, burglaries, carjackings, extortion, rapes and aggravated assaults. Mara Salvatruchas reportedly sent gang members to Arizona to target Minuteman Project Project volunteers.
Gilchrist, a Vietnam veteran, said he has been told that California and Texas leaders of Mara Salvatruchas, or “MS-13” as it is known, issued orders to teach “a lesson” to the Minuteman Project volunteers.
“We’re not worried because half of our recruits are retired trained combat soldiers,” Gilchrist said. “And those guys are just a bunch of punks.”
Mara Salvatruchas opposition is more ominous given that the gang is believed to have joined forces with former members of a radical terrorist group known as Farabundo Marti National Liberation Front, and some U.S. intelligence sources say also may be cooperating with Islamic terrorist groups, including al-Qaeda.
Some Minuteman Project critics initially alleged that the volunteers would attract racial bigots and violent hate groups to its cause. But the Minuteman Project has condemned white supremacy in the strongest terms, and local law enforcement has noted the group to be law-abiding. Each Minuteman volunteer completes a four-hour training session and spends at least one eight-hour shift in the field. Many will spend the entire month.
“If we are to send the message loud and clear to President Bush and Congress, it is imperative we stay within the law," Minuteman organizer Gilchrist said before the civilian patrols began on April 1.
Rep. Tom Tancredo, R-CO, chairman of the Congressional Immigration Reform Caucus, and U.S. Sen. Jon Kyl, R-AZ, have been vociferous defenders of the Minuteman Project Project against its critics.
“The president of Mexico is threatening to sue any member of the Minutemen who have contact with a Mexican national, threatening to take the U.S. into the International Court of Justice at the Hague over the passage of Prop 200 in Arizona, and is providing transportation to Mexican nationals trying to sneak into the U.S.,” said Trancredo. “One could say he is acting in the best interest of his nation. Isn’t it unfortunate we cannot say the same thing about President Bush?”
And Kyl lambasted Mexican President Fox’s threat to file lawsuits against the Minutemen. Fox appears to believe, “illegal aliens have more of a right to break American law than American citizens have to peacefully assist in enforcing it,” Kyl said.
The Minuteman Project’s website makes it clear that, “This call for volunteers is not a call to arms, but a call to voices seeking a peaceful and respectable resolve to the chaotic neglect by members of our local, state and federal governments charged with applying U.S. immigration law.”
Increasingly, the high-profile effort and its favorable consequences brings praise, rather than criticism. Even an ACLU spokesman admitted, “everything was going well.”
USA Today, which views the civilian patrols an “unfortunate” action, grudgingly editorialized that, “Certainly, the ‘Minutemen’ have scored a publicity coup that has put burrs under the saddles of the Border Patrol and even President Bush, who has called them ‘vigilantes’.”
“I think that they’re providing an excellent service,” said Rep. Tom DeLay, R-TX. “It's no different than neighborhood-watch programs and I appreciate them doing it….”
“There aren’t many border-control success stories these days, but Arizona’s Minuteman Project is quickly becoming one,” the Washington Times editorialized last week, also noting, “How ironic that the people who President Bush derided as ‘vigilantes’ are acting as much-needed extra eyes and ears for law-enforcement officials.”
“The Minutemen have all but sealed the U.S.-Mexico border in the 23-mile stretch they patrol,” the newspaper observed.
The editorial also raised an option that prior to the Minuteman Project was dismissed out of hand by most: that organized in larger scale in cooperation with government officials, “groups like Project Minuteman (CQ) could be a substantial contribution to border security.”
Gary Bauer, chairman of the Campaign for Working Families, noted that the Minuteman Project proves, “once again that the American people can frequently solve problems better than the bureaucrats...”
“Moreover,” Bauer said, “the Washington Times is reporting that these dedicated citizens have succeeded in getting something done that Washington has thus far failed to achieve – Mexican enforcement of the border. According to the Times, Mexican police and military personnel are apprehending migrants and relocating them away from the border area monitored by the Minutemen volunteers.”
“I hope the White House reconsiders its unfortunate labeling of these good folks as ‘vigilantes,’” Bauer said.
Columnist Cal Thomas similarly finds value in the Minuteman Project. “Instead of praising this peaceful assembly, President Bush has called them ‘vigilantes.’ They are no such thing,” Thomas wrote. “They are citizens of this country who want to preserve what they have come to love about America. They believe open borders are destructive and illegal immigration is a threat to the security and character of the nation.”
The President and others in Washington seem slow to awakening to the threat posed by a porous border in an age of terrorism. By some estimates, five illegal aliens slip through for every one apprehended, a considerable number considering more than one million were caught sneaking into the country in 2004 alone.
As comic Jay Leno quipped, “The United States announced a plan that will tighten all borders by 2008. Mexico announced a plan to have all their people here by 2007.”
Efforts by groups such as Minuteman Project might avoid such a joke becoming an unfunny reality. The Associated Press reported (Friday) that Minuteman organizers want to expand their efforts to other border states in the fall. Project organizer Simcox said the effort has, “ignited a national wave of support.” He said an expansion would take at least four months.
In the meantime, the Minutemen are providing a much-needed service; if only the rest of the U.S.-Mexico border were as secure as the tiny stretch they patrol.