Against a backdrop of mock Old West shootouts and vigilante justice icons, more than 100 volunteers arrived yesterday to join or support citizen patrols of Arizona’s border with Mexico, condemning the Bush administration for allowing an “invasion” of illegal immigrants.
Many participants, from several states, said they would set up observation posts on the border starting Monday and throughout April to scout for illegal migrants and their smugglers, using cellphones to alert the Border Patrol.
At least several volunteers were carrying sidearms yesterday and indicated they would carry the weapons during their patrols, organized by the Minuteman Project, a recently formed group that opposes illegal immigration.
Organizers estimated yesterday’s turnout at 400 people, although a headcount showed 100 to 150 at most, significantly fewer than the 1,300 who had registered on the Minuteman Project’s Web site. Organizers said scores of participants had shunned the national media coverage, opting to sit out the kickoff.
Still, Minuteman founder Jim Gilchrist, a retired accountant from Orange County, Calif., and several supporting Republican lawmakers found an energized core of volunteers who cheered in a frontier-era hall during speeches that denounced the “failed” border policies of President Bush.
Although Bush has characterized the volunteers as vigilantes, group leaders and lawmakers called them “patriots.” But the Minuteman organizers reminded participants not to break the law while scouring the border area for illegal crossers. The group also will hold rallies this weekend.
“You are American heroes,” Rep. Tom Tancredo, R-Colo., chairman of the Congressional Immigration Reform Caucus, told an assembly of about 100 volunteers, mostly white men age 40 and older. “You’re not vigilantes.”
Chris Simcox, owner of the Tombstone Tumbleweed newspaper and a Minuteman organizer, said the nation was watching.
“Hold the line, but hold your ideals up before your personal gratification,” Simcox said. “It would be hypocritical of us to go out and break the laws that we’re asking the government to enforce.
“The government unfortunately cannot allow us to succeed,” he added, suggesting that he believed federal officials may stymie the citizen patrol effort.
While leaders and participants said they welcomed this week’s federal announcement of additional Border Patrol agents and surveillance aircraft in Arizona, they said they believe the measures aren’t enough and seemed to be a White House ploy to upstage their grass-roots movement.
The Arizona-Mexico border is considered the most vulnerable stretch of the 2,000-mile southern border. Of 1.1 million illegal immigrants caught by the Border Patrol last year, 51 percent crossed into Arizona.
The Minuteman registration drew a protest by about 35 advocates of human and migrant rights. They staged a raucous dance in the tradition of Mexican indigenous people outside Schieffelin Hall where the Minutemen were meeting.
A man in a loincloth with long, gray hair led a dance line of five young Hispanic women in Aztec costumes.
“The solution is not the paramilitary groups. The solution is respect for human rights and finding another economic order that will eliminate poverty,” said Arturo Mireles, 65, leader of the Danza Azteca Cuahutemoc group.
Copyright © 2005 The Seattle Times Company