Minutemen appear to be restyling campaign along Mexican border
The Minuteman Project - reported on by the media as an impending disaster in the immigration debate - is changing its tune.
What started as a group of volunteers intending to monitor illegal entrants crossing the border and calling them in to the U.S. Border Patrol is now being sold as something more like a tailgate party on the banks of the San Pedro River.
"Our MO has changed," said Richard Humphries, a retired federal agent who's in charge of the planes the Minuteman volunteers will use to patrol the area. "Originally, we were going to try to remain quiet and hidden. That way when the illegals walked by, we could see them."
The group has been concerned about the misconception that "the media is putting out" and wants to show "that it's not just a bunch of shaved head rednecks," Hum-phries said.
Organizers now claim 40 percent of it's still-unproven 956 volunteers are women and minorities and that the group includes "4 wheelchair bound paraplegics and 6 amputees."
That's a far cry from early March, when the news was white supremacists would sneak into the group only to be met by the Mara Salvatruchas, Latino gangsters who would be there to kill Minuteman volunteers.
The group is now calling the effort a "political assembly" on its Web site. That's very different from its initial November introduction which read:
"Are YOU interested in spending up to 30 days along the Arizona border as part of a blocking force against entry into the U.S. by illegal aliens early next spring?"
Now, the volunteers will set up in groups of four to six people far enough from the border that nobody can take shots at them, Humphries said. Campfires will be lit up at night, as well. "Our whole goal is deterrence," he said.
Organizers Chris Simcox of Tombstone and James Gilchrist of Aliso Viejo, Calif., still decline to turn over any information that would corroborate that 900-plus people have signed on. When asked Friday, Simcox said only "no comment" and hung up.
In a February interview with the Arizona Daily Star, Simcox said the FBI had been contacted to help weed out bad seeds and hate groups. No such meetings ever took place, said FBI Special Agent Deborah McCarley.
Meanwhile, the rhetoric continues.
In Mexico, President Vicente Fox last week condemned the Minuteman Project as an "immigrant hunter" group. He said Mexico would use the law against the Minuteman Project.
In Arizona, Republican Senator Jon Kyl snapped back at Fox, saying he agrees a civilian Border Patrol group is unacceptable but the reasons for the group's existence are clear.
"President Fox does not appear to grasp the high level of frustration over illegal immigration in states like Arizona, and his pre-emptive threats to file lawsuits on behalf of those crossing the border unlawfully is hardly helpful, since it presumes that illegal aliens have more of a right to break American law than American citizens have to peacefully assist authorities in enforcing it," Kyl stated in a news release Thursday.
In Southern Arizona, the local chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union is bringing on "legal observers" not to protect the volunteers, but to protect illegal entrants from imprisonment, says director Ray Ybarra. For his part, he could only corroborate that two people including himself have actually signed on.
He doesn't believe the group will only monitor illegal border crossers.
"The kind of people they expect to show up and the action they take when they see a migrant in the middle of the desert are two different stories," he said.
"When you put a gun on your hip and you go out and try to do law enforcement's job, that's unacceptable."
Humphries called the accusations ridiculous.
"They're much more on the side of the lawbreakers than they are of us," he said.
Another border watch group, the American Border Patrol, is watching from the sidelines and will only report on it for their Web site, said founder Glenn Spencer.
Whether the boasted number of people actually sign up remains to be seen, Spencer said.
What is important is that the idea of a group of volunteers massing along the border is forcing the country to notice there's a problem with illegal immigration, Spencer said.
"From that standpoint, it's already succeeded. I think the politicians are feeling the heat. You have a verbal warfare going on along the border," he said.
● Contact reporter Michael Marizco at 573-4213 or at mmarizco@azstarnet.com.