Taking Border Battle to the Streets

James Pinkerton, Houston Chronicle, November 6, 2007

It’s become a Saturday morning ritual on a street corner in Spring.

Two dozen U.S. Border Watch volunteers, some wearing combat boots and military-style garb, face off with Hispanic day laborers and a half-dozen of their supporters.

“Stop the hate! Stop the fear! Immigrants are welcome here!” boomed a woman’s voice recently over a portable loudspeaker.

“Thou Shall not Steal America,” reads a sign waved by a member of Border Watch, a group based in Spring.

A similar scene has unfolded over the past months at the busy intersection of Steubner-Airline and Wimbelton Estates Drive in northwest Harris County. The day laborers, many of them undocumented, gather each morning in the Speedo gas station parking lot.

And nearly every Saturday morning since September, dozens of Border Watch members have attempted to drive them away. They chant slogans, wave signs and film employers who pick up immigrants for work.

Far from the halls of Congress and the front lines of the Southwest border, the divisive immigration debate is being played out in local neighborhoods, including the Houston area. A number of groups have upped the ante by moving from debate to confrontation, attempting to take immigration duties into their own hands.

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‘It’s about being illegal’

The president of Border Watch, Curtis S. Collier, said his members don’t have a racist agenda. Their goal is simple: Expel the millions of illegal immigrants in the United States.

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Dan Stein, president of the Federation of Americans for Immigration Reform, said the explosive growth of immigration as a domestic issue—fueled in part by the Internet—and the formation of activist groups was triggered by the Bush administration’s failure to crack down on illegal immigration. “It is a truly magnificent populist action, in a way we haven’t seen in decades,” he said.

They keep close watch

Border Watch was co-founded by Collier, a 47-year-old Spring resident who spent eight years as a U.S. Army policeman before opening a small pest control company. He claims 1,628 members nationwide, with chapters in El Paso, San Antonio and Arkansas. Twice a year, Border Watch tracks illegal immigrants crossing the Texas-Mexico border

Collier, who speaks about border security at events across Texas, repeats claims that 25 Americans citizens are killed each day by undocumented immigrants. Islamic terrorists are slipping across the Southwest border, he says, camouflaged as illegal immigrants.

“There have been reports of Spanish-speaking schools popping up in the Middle East and teaching people in that part of the world to speak Spanish so they can blend in easily,” Collier said.

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Border Watch monitors some of what Collier said are 57 day labor sites in the Houston area.

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So when church leaders in the Spring area proposed a center for day workers who use Stuebner-Airline as a gathering place, Collier and his group pounced.

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Border Watch volunteers marched on the Chamber of Commerce, and scores of members dominated a September meeting on the proposed center.

After weeks of Saturday demonstrations by Border Watch volunteers, several pro-immigrant organizations have shown up to support the day laborers. One recent Saturday, the two sides again faced off yards apart at the entrance to the Speedo convenience store. Two police cruisers were parked nearby to keep protesters apart.

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