Group Determined to Shut the Door

Bart Jones, Newsday (New York City), May 16, 2006

In June, Suffolk County resident Peter Lanteri plans to head back to the U.S.-Mexico border in Arizona, the front lines in the debate over illegal immigration, to do his part to stem the tide.

Starting Memorial Day weekend, members of a group called the Minutemen Civil Defense Corps hope to begin construction of fences for any landowner who wants them. Lanteri hopes to arrive in Arizona in early June to help out. The Minutemen, who say they will build the fences at their expense, contend it is necessary to slow an estimated 500,000 Mexicans and others who illegally cross into the U.S. each year. The group says their members will do the work, using materials donated by followers.

As envisioned by the group, the barriers will include sensors, cameras, two layers of barbed wire 6 to 8 feet high, two trenches 8 to 10 feet deep, and two 15-foot high steel fences with barbed wire on top. If built—and only on private land from approving owners—the fence would be a patchwork, at best.

Last night, President George W. Bush announced a plan to beef up security along the border, calling up to 6,000 National Guard troops to stand watch and assist federal authorities.

But Lanteri wants the border sealed up. An electrical contractor who declined to provide his hometown in Suffolk, Lanteri, 35, is head of the New York State chapter of the Minutemen. He said he spent 17 days last month in upstate New York and in Arizona participating in armed citizens patrols along the borders.

The Minutemen have played a role in the national immigration debate, but on Long Island they were, until recently, mostly non-participants. Then, last month, members appeared at a public hearing sponsored by the League of Women Voters over a proposed legal hiring site for day workers in Southampton.

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Locally, the group has more bark than bite, with an estimated 60 members in Nassau and Suffolk and perhaps 120 statewide. The group says it is establishing a presence in the Hamptons, where tensions over illegal immigration are rising.

Earlier this month, a 15-year-old boy was charged with threatening two Latino teens in East Hampton with a machete and a running chain saw and yelling racial epithets at them.

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