Protesters greet Minuteman director at event in Visalia
By Sarah Jimenez / The Fresno Bee
08/10/07 04:55:21
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VISALIA -- The founder of a California border watchdog organization said his group is doing the job the federal government isn't handling.

But protesters with a Visalia-based social justice group called the organization's tactics extreme and dangerous.

Still, the two sides agreed Thursday night to have a sit-down discussion on how to address immigration reform and national security concerns.

Carl Braun, executive director of Minuteman Civil Defense Corps of California, and members of the American Friends Service Committee's Proyecto Campesino met briefly before an event at the Visalia Convention Center.

Braun was the guest speaker at a dinner sponsored by the Southeastern Tulare County Republican Women. About 100 people listened to Braun's presentation titled "Border Insecurity."

Carleen Kemmerling, vice president of the Republican group, said members thought hearing about Braun's organization was timely given the many debates about immigration reform recently in the Senate.

The Minuteman Civil Defense Corps is based in San Diego and made up of armed volunteers who patrol the U.S.-Mexico border, reporting illegal activity to federal authorities.

The organization's California chapter has about 2,000 members, Braun said. All members go through a background check, interview and training. Bigots and racists are not allowed to join the organization, he said.

Braun said his group doesn't have "a beef" with illegal immigrants trying to support their families. Corps volunteers are upset with the U.S. government for allowing illegal border crossing and the Mexican government for promoting such activity, he said.

"Our purpose is step up where the government has fallen down," he said.

But protesters outside Thursday's event didn't see it that way. Many said the group is taking the law into its own hands.

About 60 protesters held signs, such as "Ningun ser humano es ilegal" (No human is illegal) and carried U.S. flags.

Graciela Martinez, Proyecto Campesino program coordinator, said her organization agrees that lawmakers need to solve national security and immigration concerns. But Proyecto Campesino wants to see it done in a peaceful way.

"We need to be united. Others have coined the phrase 'United we stand, divided we fall,' " she said. "If we're divided, what will we be as a nation?"

The idea of nonlaw-enforcement people patrolling the border worries Dolores Cercado of Lindsay, one of the protesters.

"The idea of armed civilians is scary to me," she said. "Where do you draw the line?"

Lisa Bilek with the South Valley Peace Center agreed: "It's just a matter of time before someone gets hurt."

Braun said his volunteers don't interact with those crossing the border, unless medical assistance is needed. Since starting the patrols in August 2005, no one -- group member or undocumented immigrant -- has been hurt, he said.

Braun said he applauded the protesters and use of their First Amendment rights. He told Martinez he would contact her to set up a meeting.

But Kemmerling said she was frustrated protesters had labeled her group's event as hateful. "They're allowed to march and be vocal about what they want to see," she said. "But we can't have someone we want to hear speak?"

Kemmerling, whose father immigrated from Italy and mother from Norway, said she supports immigration -- if done legally.

"I want them to do it the right way -- stand in line and wait through the process," she said.
The reporter can be reached at or (559) 622-2413. ... morephotos