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Citizens group to patrol U.S.-Mexico border

An Arizona-based citizens group is recruiting hundreds of volunteers to patrol the border with Mexico this spring. Law enforcement in the area is not amused, and local rights groups fear an escalation of ethnic tensions.
/ Source: Reuters

An Arizona-based citizens group is recruiting hundreds of volunteers to patrol the border with Mexico this spring, saying that U.S. government has failed to stem the flow of illegal immigrants.

Organizers of the MinuteMan Project said on Tuesday that they have signed up 200 people from 29 U.S. states to patrol a stretch of the border in Arizona throughout April to search for illegal aliens and were adding 20 new volunteers a day.

“It’s the largest neighborhood watch program ever put together by Americans, with the direct aim of challenging the president of the United States to do his job,” Chris Simcox told Reuters in a telephone interview from Tombstone, Arizona.

Each year, around 1 million illegal immigrants are caught crossing the 2,000-mile U.S.-Mexico border, more than 40 percent of them in the deserts of Arizona. Even more are thought to get through.

Campouts for a cause
Volunteers who sign up for the MinuteMan Project, named for militia units who fought in the American Revolution, will camp out for a month on local ranches and public land to spot illegal immigrants crossing a 30-mile stretch of the border in area near the Arizona town of Douglas.

Simcox, a local newspaper editor, said that most volunteers have backgrounds in either the military or law enforcement. They plan to report any illegals to the U.S. Border Patrol and “continue to track them until the patrol arrives to apprehend them,” he said.

Critics say it is a vigilante group, and fear that over-eager volunteers may use firearms to intimidate migrants or harass legal Latino residents. Simcox declined to say whether MinuteMan Project volunteers would be armed, but said that they would act “within state laws... and are not vigilantes.”

Bumper crop of posses
In recent years, a number of citizens patrol groups have sprung up in southern Arizona and Texas, including Ranch Rescue, the American Border Patrol and the Civil Homeland Defense Corps, which Simcox founded in Tombstone in 2002.

Douglas Mayor Ray Borane criticized such efforts as “senseless, misdirected exercises in futility” that do not address the serious problem of illegal immigrants crossing the U.S.-Mexico border.

“All they do is draw a bunch of misfits from across the country who don’t have anything to do but make trouble,” Borane said. “They get in the way, they are a nuisance and create more problems than they solve.”

Borane added: “Government has to tolerate them because of the rights guaranteed by the Constitution. The (U.S.) government doesn’t say anything because it has to be politically correct.”

Fear of ‘wannabe Rambos’
Wary local rights groups fear the month-long MinuteMan Project could raise tensions in the border region, which has a large Latino community.

“We are very concerned that they will be bringing in a lot of people who know nothing about the border, about immigrants or about Latinos,” said Jennifer Allen, the executive director of Tucson-based Border Action Network.

“We suspect that Latino residents from the area will be racially profiled by a bunch of random guys from across the country who are kind of wannabe Rambos,” she added.

In November, the Border Action Network supported a civil suit against an assault-rifle toting Arizona rancher who detained a resident Latino family near Douglas, falsely believing that they were illegal migrants.