Volunteers gather to help patrol Arizona's border with Mexico

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Volunteers for the Minuteman Project arrived in Tombstone, Arizona on Friday.

Sunday, April 3, 2005

Volunteers from across the United States and some foreign countries gathered Friday to start an unofficial border patrol project.

They converged on the town of Tombstone, Arizona to take part in what organizers call the Minuteman Project.

Many came with personal firearms, cell phones or walking canes.

Most estimates numbered the group at 400 to 450 people, recruited from the Internet, far less than the 1,300 the organizers had hoped for, but “it was enough to send a message,” according to Rep. Tom Tancredo, R-Colo.

"The federal government has walked away from this border," he told some volunteers. He gained support and popularity for his stance against illegal immigration, but was characterized as anti-immigration in general.

"We are here to exercise what is a basic American right: free speech and the right to assemble," he said.

Local citizens such as Luis Martinez, a third-generation Tombstone-area resident, were very unhappy with the developments. "They've come here to cause problems -- to fight. Not to solve problems.

"I work in a ranch and all the ranchers use labor from the other side" of the border.

As Martinez fought back tears, he said he wanted to see the throngs leave Tombstone and go home.

During speeches delivered at orientation meetings, Rep. Tancredo was applauded loudly as he dismissed criticism from those who have called the volunteers racists and xenophobes. His fellow [[Republican Party (US)|Republican}}, President George Bush, described the group as "vigilantes." Mexican President Vicente Fox used the term cazamigrantes — immigrant hunters.

Tancredo said: "We are saying to our government, 'Please enforce the law,' That is not a radical idea. That is not a vigilante idea. It is an American concept: the rule of law."

Many of the volunteers, some from as far away as Italy, are bedding down in the nearby Miracle Valley Bible College for about $5 a night. Others are camping on the grounds of the run-down campus, about two miles north of the border.

Opposing sides were on the streets in Tombstone, although it appeared there was little contact or friction. Local, state and federal officers had mobilized in case confrontations arose.

James Gilchrist, a former Marine and a retired accountant from Aliso Viejo, Arizona, who ran the sign-up effort, said he expected more than 1,000 volunteers to help highlight the 30-day effort. The project's goal is to patrol 23 miles of the San Pedro Valley, watch the border, and report illegal activity to law enforcement officials.

Many people fear that the project could result in vigilante violence. Organizers hope it causes the U.S. government to increase border patrols.

Tombstone is best known as the site of the 1881 shootout at the OK Corral.


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