Volunteers beginning watch near Canada line
Minutemen see threat in north

By Yvonne Abraham, Globe Staff | October 4, 2005

The Minutemen have come to New England.

The civilian group, which previously focused its efforts on patrolling the Mexican border, is turning its attention to the US-Canada line. The group is seeking volunteers in eight northern states in an attempt to prevent people from entering the United States illegally and began watching border crossings in some of those states, including Vermont, over the weekend.

''The north is still a threat to national security," said Chris Simcox, president of the Minuteman Civil Defense Corps. ''There are 1,000 border patrol agents to cover a 4,000-mile northern border. It's an outrage. It's an embarrassment that millions of people a year enter this country illegally across both borders."

The organizers are seeking volunteers to watch the 789-mile Canadian border along New Hampshire, Maine, and Vermont, in addition to the other northern states. The effort is part of a monthlong, nationwide campaign to keep a closer eye on the nation's entry points and to draw attention to what Simcox's group says are the inadequate resources given to border control in this country.

The effort has started more quietly in New England than in states on the southern border, where Simcox said about 500 people volunteered this month.

''It's developing slowly, but it's developing," Simcox said.

But local officials question the necessity of the volunteer force.

''I don't see much need for that," said Doug Hazlett, town manager in Houlton, a border town in northern Maine. ''It's not like we have a porous border like the Mexican border is. People don't come across to work illegally or anything like that. I'm surprised to hear about it. I'm not sure I fully understand what their mission would be."

So far, the patrol in this region has consisted of one group of a dozen or so volunteers watching the border in Vermont over the weekend. They did not spot anyone trying to cross the border illegally, Simcox said. The patrols in New England are currently a weekends-only proposition, though Simcox said he hopes to recruit volunteers and expand them.

Immigrant-rights groups decried the effort yesterday, accusing the Minutemen of importing intolerance to the region.

''You never hear complaints about the US-Canada border up here," said Judy Elliott of the New Hampshire Immigrants' Rights Task Force. ''So I don't think it comes from New Hampshire people at all. It comes from folks from outside who are trying to bring a malicious message into this state."

The Department of Homeland Security has beefed up security along the US-Canadian border since 2003, tripling the number of agents there. Hazlett said that in addition to the officers, helicopters and aircraft survey the area regularly.

''The degree of sophistication on the border between us and Canada is very, very high now, after 9/11," he said. ''If you ask agents whether they feel any degree of porousness, you would get the answer back that it was minimal."

Customs and Border Protection officers arrested 7,340 people along the northern border in the fiscal year that ended Sept. 30, according to preliminary figures. About 2,100 of those people were arrested in the border regions of New Hampshire, Maine, and Vermont. But there is no way to tell how many of those arrests were of people trying to enter illegally and how many were for other immigration violations, said Customs and Border Protection spokesman Mario Villarreal.

The arrest numbers are dwarfed by those in the South: During the same year, about 1.2 million people were arrested by border patrol officers along the 2,000-mile southern border.

Villarreal said the Minutemen are taking on a job they are not trained to do.

''The front-line border patrol agents are committed to protecting our nation's borders," he said. ''They have the training, they have the equipment, and they are empowered to enforce the immigration laws of this country. We highly discourage private citizens from taking matters into their own hands."

But Simcox said that border patrol agents are overwhelmed because they are given scant resources and that illegal immigrants continue to pour into this country as a result.

The Minuteman volunteers park themselves in lawn chairs on this side of the border, with binoculars and cellphones, ready to report illegal entrants. They watch for people who are crossing over fields, through woods, and along unmanned roadways.

''We feel we can do most good by being a pair of extra eyes," Simcox said. ''Our goal is to force the government to do its job. Until they do it in a way that meets our satisfaction, we will help do it ourselves. That's the American way."