Matt York  /  AP
Minuteman Project volunteer Phil Lyons scans the U.S.-Mexican border on Thursday near Naco, Ariz.
updated 4/21/2005 8:04:29 PM ET 2005-04-22T00:04:29

The organizers of a group of volunteers patrolling the Mexican border for illegal immigrants are declaring the Minuteman Project a success before it is even over. But others say it has done little more than make noise.

“They’re taking credit for securing the border, and surely no one with any credibility believes that,” said Michael Nicley, chief of the U.S. Border Patrol’s Tucson sector, which encompasses most of the Arizona border.

There have been no reports of any vigilante violence, as law enforcement authorities feared when the volunteers took up positions at the start of April.

About 750 volunteers have spent at least one eight-hour shift in the field, patrolling a 23-mile stretch of desert between Naco and Douglas, to try to stem the flow across the busiest illegal entry point on the Mexican border.

“In just 17 days, the Minuteman Project has successfully sealed the San Pedro River Valley border from illegal activity,” Minuteman organizer Jim Gilchrist said on the project’s Web site this week, halfway through the monthlong venture.

Gilchrist pointed to a drop in Border Patrol apprehensions in the area as proof: The agency caught about 2,500 illegal immigrants in the Naco area during the first half of the month; agents apprehended nearly 7,700 during the same period last year.

But Nicley and others attributed the drop to U.S. agents and the increased presence of Mexican police and members of Grupo Beta, a Mexican government-sponsored organization that tries to discourage people from crossing illegally and aids those stranded in the desert.

Authorities suggested that illegal immigrants are simply going around the Minutemen’s lines.

“They are going west of Naco, but they are still trying,” said Bertha de la Rosa, a coordinator with Grupo Beta.

The volunteers were recruited over the Internet. Some are armed, but they are under instructions not to detain anyone, but to report them to authorities.

Sen. Jon Kyl, R-Ariz., said he expects congressional action before year’s end on additional border enforcement. He said the Minutemen’s effort to focus attention on the issue “was at least somewhat helpful.”

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