HOLDING THE LINE: Steve Holder of Lake Forest keeps an eye out for illegal immigrants crossing the border with Mexico while on border watch with the Minutemen Corps of California. Holder has been volunteering with the Minutemen for over two years and estimates that he has seen about 70 illegal immigrants attempting to cross the border.


Saturday, July 5, 2008
Border watch groups stay on job to fight illegal immigration
Poll: Activists say they help Border Patrol capture immigrants and drug smugglers. What do you think?
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Boulevard, CA - Steve Holder stretched out across a crop of high desert rock just north of the California-Mexico border Saturday and peered through his binoculars, hoping to spot a drug runner.

It was just after 7 a.m., and the desert sun was already beating down on Holder's camouflage pants, khaki vest and low ponytail. The 57-year-old Lake Forest man pulled a green bottle of Perrier from his backpack then, in his clipped British accent, cracked a joke about how his bubbly water habit has become the stuff of legend – at least among his fellow Minutemen.

Maybe that's because it isn't what you'd expect a redneck, or a border vigilante, or a racist – as members of the Minuteman groups have been called by their critics – to drink.

But Holder and his classy beverage appeared determined to surprise. In the past, Holder has refused to let reporters use his true name, fearing backlash at his job as a computer programmer. But this holiday weekend, the native Brit and American citizen decided to go public.

"Do we hide forever because we're patriotic and fighting for our rights?" Holder asked.

Along with Holder, a dozen Minutemen chapters plus a handful of border security activist groups attended a Fourth of July celebration at Camp Vigilance, an oak-dotted Minuteman RV hook-up site two and a half miles north of the border.

At Camp Vigilance, a giant flag flew high, country music played and pigs roasted as would-be politicians railed against the flow of illegal immigrants from Mexico to the U.S.

"My father killed a lot of people for this country," said Ted Hayes, of his father's military service. Hayes is campaigning to unseat Rep. Maxine Waters in the 35th Congressional District. "He didn't do it so a lot of other people could walk to this country and take it from us."

Hayes' message resonated with audience members like Elaine Proko, 75, of Anaheim, who says illegal immigration has run amok.

"This is serious," Proko said. "If we don't clean this up, we're not going to have a country." Proko clarified that she has nothing against Mexican people.

While they celebrated Independence Day with their philosophical friends, many involved with the various Minutemen groups conceded that their movement is suffering from a poor public image.

Border Watch Groups
Do border watch groups make a difference in the amount of people crossing illegally into the U.S.?
Yes, they are a big help.

No, they don't help and should leave the border to professionals.

I don't know, but they are dedicated and should be supported.

Total Votes: 332

The groups sprouted up over the past few years as anti-illegal immigration foes struggled to do something about what they perceive as a lack of sufficient border security. Their efforts have included protests at day laborer sites, marches and a border-watching caravan across the Southwest.

The groups have suffered fractious in-fighting, with Minuteman Project co-founder Jim Gilchrist suing many of his former collaborators. After one group posted an online video encouraging border violence, some Minutemen are careful to point out that they do not advocate such actions.

The Minutemen say that border-watching continued even as 6,000 National Guard troops were deployed two years ago to secure the Southwest border, and claim that it will continue now that those troops have left the area around Boulevard. The National Guard mission officially ends July 15; the U.S. Border Patrol is now 16,500 agents strong and intends to increase to 18,000, said Victor Castruita, public information officer for the agency.

Carl Braun, who, like Holder, is part of the Minuteman Civil Defense Corps and the Border Patrol Auxiliary, explained at Camp Vigilance on Friday that legitimate border-watching groups assist the U.S. Border Patrol by doing nothing more than observing illegal trafficking and reporting it. Guns are carried purely for self-defense – and would be deployed only in extreme measures.

Saturday, Holder and the handful of volunteers with him stuck to those border-watching rules. No guns were fired, though several were strapped into holsters and loaded up once the Minutemen had passed into the border zone.

The keenest tool used Saturday was binoculars, which helped 19-year-old Kyle Dewey, a Minuteman from La Mesa, spot the man the group took to be part of a drug running group. Before Holder could see him, the supposed drug runner had disappeared from his perch on a ledge of rock, somewhere in the no-man's land where no border fence is there to define the border. A French anthropologist took notes as Dewey explained that he will be joining the Marine Corps this month, and some day may become a U.S. Border Patrol agent himself.

Among Holder and Dewey's companions, squinting to catch illegal traffic, was San Diego-native Charles McCarty, 72, who came from his home in the Isle of Man to join the holiday weekend border watch. On the July 4th weekend, he said, the border was an appropriate place to be.

"It's good to be with like-minded people," McCarty said.

Civilian Border Patrol Timeline

December 2005:The House of Representatives passes an immigration reform and border security bill, which would crack down on illegal immigration through a series of enforcement measures.

April 2006:The Minuteman Project and Minuteman Civil Defense Corps begin separate but simultaneous patrols in all four states with Mexican borders during the month of April.

May 2006:In a nationally televised speech, President Bush calls for up to 6,000 National Guardsmen to help seal the U.S. Mexico border. Eleven days later, the Senate passes a comprehensive border enforcement bill, similar to one passed by the House in December.

July 2006:Thousands of National Guardsmen, including up to 60 from Orange County, are stationed near the Mexican border as support for border patrol agents.

September 2006:After easy passage in both the House and Senate, President Bush signs into law a measure that authorizes 700 miles of new fencing along the Mexican border.

January 2007: With no conference committee convened to hash out the differences between the House and Senate bills on immigration, both die with the end of the 109th Congress.

May 2007:The Comprehensive Immigration Reform Act of 2007 is introduced in the Senate as a compromise between factions in the immigration debate. Despite repeated revivals and strong presidential backing, the bill never comes up for a final vote.

July 2007 :National Guardsmen are scheduled to end their deployment at the border.

-- Compiled by News Researcher Michael Doss

*Area encompasses California/Mexican border to Imperial Dunes an 11-mile of California which is patrolled by Arizona Border Patrol

Source: United States Border Patrol

Contact the writer: ecarlyle@ocregister.com or 714-796-7722

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