Minutemen gather to patrol US-Mexican border in April

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April 1, 2005

Starting April 1, an organization of volunteers known as the Minuteman Project is planning to begin patrolling a 23-mile stretch of the Arizona-Mexico border in the search for illegal immigrants. The project is described as the "nation's largest neighborhood watch group" by Minuteman field operations director Chris Simcox.

The goal of the project is to make Americans aware of porous and undefended American borders. Motivated by a concern for illegal drug trafficking, the availability of entry points for potential terrorists, and a lack of effective enforcement of immigration laws by US federal and state officials, the name Minuteman was used in order for the group to portray itself as a "grassroots effort to bring Americans to the defense of their homeland, similar to the way the original Minutemen from Massachusetts (and other U.S. colonies) did in the late 1700s," according to the group's website.

The activities of the Minutemen are protected by legal rights found in the US Constitution, according to various commentators. Says Arizona Gov. Janet Napolitano, "People are entitled to exercise their First Amendment rights and entitled to assemble...That's why you can't stop the Minutemen from coming even though, from a law enforcement perspective, it's worrisome to have untrained people, potentially armed, performing what should be a law enforcement function." Some of the Minutemen plan to be armed in order to defend themselves in case of aggressive action by potential armed illegal immigrants and those who transport them. The carrying of handguns is allowed under Arizona law and is protected by the Second Amendment.

The Minutemen are not allowed by law to arrest or detain potential illegal immigrants, and any such action is forbidden by the group's organizers. The project's goal is to survey the area using planes and binoculars, and to alert the appropriate authorities and follow suspected illegal immigrants until they are detained. Observers from various groups, most prominently the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), plan to be on hand to monitor the activities of the Minutemen with a view to mounting possible legal challenges against them.

Critics, such as some Arizona state Hispanic lawmakers, are planning to show up at the public gatherings and press conferences of the Minutemen, in order to raise criticism and present contrary points of view in the public eye about what they believe to be the current state of illegal immigration. Some opponents have also complained that many participants may be motivated by racism or vigilantism; however, the organizers of the Project make a point of emphasizing their lack of participation with separatist or supremacist groups and the racial diversity and inclusiveness of their volunteers.

Illegal immigrants and their public benefits have come under increasing scrutiny in recent months in Arizona, with the passing of Proposition 200 on November 2, 2004 by a margin of 56% of voters in favor. This proposition attempts to prevent illegal immigrants from voting or receiving some government services. The effort to define what benefits they can legally be excluded from is ongoing, for example with the recent failure of HB2264 to pass an Arizona senate committee; the bill would have required some illegal immigrants to pay higher out-of-state rates for college tuition.

Similar efforts to the current Minuteman Project have been organized in the past few years, but with few participants and without notable success. Some local residents were concerned that possible violence could erupt from the presence of additional armed individuals, either among the Minutemen or the illegal immigrants. Others welcomed the presence of the Minutemen, considering them tourists helping the local economy, and appreciating their drawing attention to the perceived lax enforcement of border control by Federal authorities. Their activities are planned to last for about a month.