By Brock N. Meeks Chief Washington correspondent
msnbc.com
updated 6/16/2005 4:00:59 PM ET 2005-06-16T20:00:59

The civilian-led border watch group known as the Minuteman Project plans to expand its membership into Canada, MSNBC.com has learned.

The American-Canadian Conservative Coalition (AC3) has agreed to recruit and field Canadian volunteers who will join with the U.S.-based Minutemen to hold simultaneous cross-border vigils along the Michigan-Ontario border sometime this summer. 

The joint project will be called “Michigan-Ontario Minuteman Border Neighborhood Watch, according to a Minuteman Project spokesperson. 

The Minuteman Project came to prominence in April when the group fielded about 900 volunteers to patrol a 23-mile stretch of the Arizona-Mexico border.  Earlier this week Chris Simcox, founder of the Minuteman Civil Defense Corps, the group that trains and sanctions other Minuteman chapters, announced plans to expand his group’s border-watch operation to nearly a dozen states, including some on the northern border.

“Our Canadian neighbors have been very supportive of helping us encourage citizens and civic organizations both countries to be more informed and involved to help us protect the brotherhood of nations on the American and Canadian border,” said Art Roselle, founding member of AC3.

“We are honored to do our part to help make sure all border crossings between our two countries are safe and legal,” said Matt Ford, founding member and Canadian co-chair of AC3 in a statement from the group slated to be released Friday.

The U.S. Border Patrol remains firmly non-committal about the operations of groups like the Minuteman Project, “as long as it does not disrupt operations,” said Mario Villarreal, a national spokesman for the Border Patrol.  The Border Patrol encourages citizens to call and report suspicious activity and not take matters into their own hands, Villarreal said. 

However, the southwestern and northern borders remain “very mysterious and dangerous places,” Villarreal said.  “So by having untrained and unprepared civilians in these types of locations places these civilians in a very, dangerous and compromising position, he said.  “This type of activity should be left to the professionals and that is the Border Patrol.”

The Border Patrol only has about 1,000 agents to cover the entire northern border, which compares with the nearly 2,500 Border Patrol agents assigned to cover just the Arizona-Mexico border.

Apprehensions along the northern border pale in comparison with those in the south.  To date this fiscal year, which started in October, some 5,240 people have been arrested by the Border Patrol along the northern border, Villarreal said.  That compares with 6,412 apprehended in the same time frame last year along the northern border.  Meanwhile, there have been 840,845 apprehensions made to date this fiscal year along the southwest border compared with 827,069 in the same time last year.

Villarreal noted that a good percentage of the northern border arrests weren’t related to illegal border crossings but were people caught inside the U.S., at random checkpoints, for example, that were found to be in violation of immigrations laws.

AC3 plans to host its first Michigan-Ontario Minuteman meeting in July, in Windsor, Ontario, according to Minuteman Project spokesperson.  That meeting will officially launch their recruitment campaign with a rally to follow in August.

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