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Volunteer patrols stir uneasiness on border
Minuteman Project could draw 1,000 for migrant watch

Susan Carroll
Republic Tucson Bureau
Apr. 1, 2005 12:00 AM

TOMBSTONE - Faye Leedy cornered a burly man standing guard outside the white-walled headquarters for the Minuteman Project, ogling his T-shirt with a look of pure envy.

Leedy, a 73-year-old volunteer for a much-hyped civilian border patrol effort that starts in Tombstone today, read the writing, in old-fashioned Western script, out loud: "Undocumented Border Patrol Agent."

"Oh, I gotta have one of those," she said with a chuckle. advertisement

Leedy, a Sierra Vista retiree, is among an unlikely bunch of self-appointed border police set to descend on Cochise County to "assist" the U.S. Border Patrol in keeping undocumented immigrants from crossing the U.S.-Mexican border.

Inside the project's headquarters on Toughnut Street on Thursday, organizers, who said they expect as many as 1,000 volunteers from across the country, holed up to work out details for a series of protests, patrols and news conferences.

Volunteers for the monthlong effort trickled into town in ones and twos in vehicles with license plates from as far away as Arkansas and Tennessee. Some milled outside the headquarters, wearing gun belts and holsters with sidearms.

As Department of Homeland Security agents cruised through this historic outpost, dubbed "The Town Too Tough To Die," local law enforcement prepared for the influx of volunteers and a rally planned for Saturday.

In offices and boardrooms in Arizona, California and Mexico, opponents of the project put finishing touches on plans to counterprotest the movement and set a schedule to train more volunteers to act as "legal observers."

Rep. Tom Tancredo, R-Colo., wildly popular with anti-illegal immigration supporters because of his push to seal the border, boarded a plane from the East Coast to head to a rally on Saturday.

Five Republican state lawmakers plan to take a van to Tombstone to show support for the volunteers. Sen. Jack Harper, R-Surprise, said he believes the volunteers won't break the law or attempt to "round up" undocumented immigrants. Going with Harper will be Sens. Thayer Verschoor, R-Gilbert, and Karen Johnson, R-Mesa, and Reps. Andy Biggs, R-Mesa, and Russell Pearce, R-Mesa.

Rep. Ben Miranda, a Phoenix Democrat, also has said he plans to head to Tombstone to monitor and confront the Minutemen.

As news crews descended on Tombstone, Leedy bristled at charges that the Minuteman Project had any ties to racism or xenophobia. The fears were stoked this week after the White-power organization National Alliance distributed fliers in the border town of Douglas, an hour southeast of Tombstone, and went on TV saying they had infiltrated the project.

"It has nothing to do with racism," Leedy said. "I love the Mexican people. They're beautiful people. I see nothing wrong with them coming here. But they need to do it according to the law."

The project's organizers describe the effort along the border as a massive "neighborhood watch" and said volunteers will be instructed to alert the Border Patrol when they spot undocumented immigrants and to avoid confrontations.

They said the main goal is to draw public attention to the U.S.-Mexican border and particularly problems in Arizona, the busiest illegal-immigration corridor in the nation.

Roughly one out of every five of the 1.1 million undocumented immigrants arrested this year crossing the border came through Cochise County, population 122,000, according to the 2000 census.

The Department of Homeland Security has vowed to gain control of the Arizona border and on Wednesday pledged to send an additional 534 agents and to more than double the number of aircraft over the next six months.

The agency has discouraged people from participating in the Minuteman Project, saying they put themselves and possibly agents at risk. President Bush also spoke against the movement, saying he's "against vigilantes in the United States of America."

Douglas Mayor Ray Borane worries that the project has the potential to get out of control. The Internet-based recruiting effort attracted so much national media attention that organizers face a daunting task trying to weed out White supremacists.

"They're not going to be able to control these people, especially the radical groups," Borane said. "That's of great concern to me."

The Mexican government issued a news release Thursday warning that Mexican consulates will file criminal complaints against anyone who violates the law. The American Civil Liberties Union has trained more than 100 "legal observers," who will follow participants in the Minuteman Project when they start patrols, said Ray Ybarra, organizer of the ACLU effort in Douglas. They plan training sessions today and Saturday.

"It's kind of turning into a movement of its own," he said. "The legal observers are there first and foremost to deter any violence with their presence."

Sitting on the patio outside the Minuteman Project headquarters, Al Phillips, 54, said he drove more than 1,700 miles from Tennessee to help the civilian patrol effort and plans to stay the entire month.

"I think the border needs a few more eyes," he said. "If we see people coming across, we'll call the Border Patrol. That's all we're going to do. Our borders should be more secure than they are."

Larry Vance, a rancher who lives north of the border near Douglas, said the Minuteman Project already is having an effect with news about volunteers and an increased number of Border Patrol agents driving down the number of undocumented immigrants coming through his 20-acre property.

"We haven't seen any aliens in two weeks," he said.

Typically, he said, he spots about 30 or 40 people a night crossing his property.

Sally Alves, owner of Curly Bill's Bed and Breakfast in Tombstone, said the project gives the town, founded in 1877, a bad reputation.

"It's the wrong kind of tourism as far as I'm concerned," she said.