PALOMINAS, Ariz. -- The Civil Homeland Defense organization of Arizona formally took charge of the Minuteman Project yesterday, reassigning volunteers and designating new supervisors to oversee efforts to prevent migrants from illegally entering the United States.
"This project was just the beachhead for a nationwide effort to secure this nation's borders," said Bob Wright, a Hobbs, N.M., businessman who helped organize the Minuteman volunteers and is coordinating the CDH effort.
The border vigil proved that "if citizens in lawn chairs can secure the border, the U.S. government can, too," said Minuteman organizer James T. Gilchrist, a retired California certified public accountant.
Yesterday in Washington, Sen. Wayne Allard, Colorado Republican, said the government should consider deputizing private citizens, such as the Minuteman Patrol, and better use local law enforcement and state officials to help secure the most porous parts of the U.S.-Mexico line.
"I wonder sometimes if maybe we're not looking too much to a federal solution," Mr. Allard told Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff during a Senate Appropriations Committee hearing.
"I happen to believe that those people down along the border that formed the Minutemen organization have some real concerns," Mr. Allard said.
Gaining the attention of Congress was one of the project's main goals, said Mr. Gilchrist, who next week is heading to Washington with co-organizer Chris Simcox, the publisher of a Tombstone, Ariz., newspaper, to testify before the Congressional Immigration Reform Caucus.
Mr. Gilchrist and Mr. Simcox have outlined a plan to recruit "tens of thousands" of volunteers for a border blockade this fall, mostly along the U.S.-Mexico border. It also will target big-name employers who knowingly hire illegal aliens.
Since the monthlong vigil began April 1, nearly 800 Minuteman volunteers have participated in the protest of the nation's lax immigration policies. The volunteers have reported hundreds of illegal aliens to the Border Patrol, leading officials in Mexico and the United States to privately say the protest has been effective.
Mr. Gilchrist said the number of aliens crossing where the Minuteman volunteers had set up observation posts dropped from an average of 64,000 a month to an expected 5,000 this month.
But U.S. Border Patrol officials said the presence of additional agents in the Naco area as part of the government's Arizona Border Control Initiative, along with Cochise County Sheriff's Department deputies who were assigned to monitor the volunteers because of concerns about violence, was responsible for a decrease in the number of detained aliens.
They also attributed the decline to the Mexican military and police, along with a Mexican humanitarian organization, Grupa Beta, for routing would-be illegal aliens around the Naco area.
At the Washington hearing, Mr. Chertoff sidestepped Mr. Allard's suggestion to deputize citizens to patrol the border. But the secretary said Border Patrol agents are working with authorities in Arizona.
This article is based in part on wire service reports.