In its second day of operations, the civilian volunteer Minuteman Project claimed to have aided the Border Patrol in the apprehension of 141 illegal aliens along the Arizona border and deterred many more from attempting to cross from Mexico.
With the project gaining favorable attention, a city official from New Mexico announced he would like to expand the project to his state.
“It has been successful,” said Chris Simcox of Civil Homeland Defense, a group aiding the Minuteman Project. “No one has come across.”
While President Bush and other officials have characterized the Minutemen as “vigilantes” and Mexico’s President Vicente Fox has threatened them with prosecution, the group is getting more favorable attention from some media outlets and radio talk-show hosts impressed with their composure, discipline and orderliness.
Meanwhile, Albuquerque City Councilman David Pfeffer said he wants to bring the Minuteman Project to New Mexico. Pfeffer said he wants to be personally involved in the volunteer effort to patrol the border for illegal immigrants and smugglers.
“I would be willing to get involved with an effort along New Mexico’s borders,” Pfeffer said.
Pfeffer said he attended a gathering Friday of Minuteman volunteers in Tombstone and that the meeting helped persuade him to support the effort.
“What I understood from their message . . . was that we have a serious problem at the border,” Pfeffer said.
Pfeffer said he would “absolutely” be willing to get involved with a New Mexico citizen border-patrol project.
As for carrying a weapon, Pfeffer said he “wouldn’t go out there unarmed.”
“There is a Mexican drug cartel that has threatened peoples’ lives because of this,” Pfeffer said. “The smugglers that come across the borders will shoot at you. So no, I don’t think it’s unreasonable to think that some people have armed themselves.”
Pfeffer said some residents of Santa Fe, New Mexico, were also present in Tombstone for the purpose of learning from the experience to expand the effort to their state.
Meanwhile, in Tombstone, Simcox said the effort has exceeded his expectations so far.
“I’m just ecstatic with how successful it’s been,” Simcox said.
Hundreds of the citizen volunteers, armed with binoculars and radios, are casting themselves as the eyes and ears of the Border Patrol, whose top officials have also denounced the action, though rank-and-file agents have been spotted thanking the Minutemen for their presence.
“We want to continue through the summer until the government caves,” Simcox said. “Our president and Congress have continued to ignore this issue, the most serious threat to national security is this border.”
The Minutemen, named after U.S. War of Independence militia group in New England, is made up of civilians from across the United States, many of them retired servicemen or law enforcement personnel.
The Minutemen are guarding a 23-mile stretch of the border where one out of every five of the 1.1 million illegal immigrants arrested last year crossed into the U.S., according to Border Patrol statistics.
The volunteers report illegal crossers to the Border Patrol rather than confront or detain illegal aliens themselves.
“Our aim is to send a message to Mr. Bush and Congress that they have not listened to the demands of citizens,” said Simcox. “We are modeling what homeland security should look like. There should be National Guardsmen every 2,000 yards from the Pacific to the Gulf of Mexico. You can’t find a greater threat to the U.S. than right here.”
So far, more than a thousand Americans have descended on a remote stretch of the U.S.-Mexican border to join the Minuteman Project.
The Minuteman Project is having an impact. Smugglers have told the Mexican press that crossing in the area where the Minutemen are patrolling is now virtually impossible and they have to go elsewhere or wait 30 days until the Minutemen are gone.
But Simcox is hoping more volunteers will join the effort and sustain it through the summer.
About 66,000 illegal immigrants were caught last month in one area where the Minutemen are now patrolling. Border Patrol officials admit many more evade capture.
Besides deterring illegal immigration and helping capture some aliens, the Minutemen believe their action is raising awareness of the border problem and may force Congress and Bush to rethink the guest worker plan many of his core supporters oppose.
Rep. Tom Tancredo, leader of the House Immigration Reform Caucus, and a supporter of the Minuteman Project says the Department of Homeland Security’s decision to send 500 more Porder Patrol agents to the troubled area last week is no coincidence.
But he points out those agents were transferred from other parts of the porous Mexican border.
“If we secure the Arizona border, then we will see a massive shift . . . to New Mexico border,” he says. “And then if we secure the New Mexico border, we’ll see a massive shift to the Texas border. So it goes until you actually seal the border.”
Tancredo says a security fence, like that built by the Israelis and many other countries, is a “perfectly acceptable, low-tech method of trying to stop people from coming into your country without your knowledge.” Tancredo says even though Congress has passed legislation authorizing 2,000 more agents per year for the next five years, the Bush administration does not want to hire them.