PALOMINAS, Ariz. - Mike Gaddy, 58, a retired Army veteran of Vietnam, Gre-nada and Beirut, rises silently to address fellow Minuteman Project volunteers gathered at their “command center,” the mess hall of a ramshackle Bible college.
“Heaven help these folks when we leave,” Mr. Gaddy says, attempting to make eye contact with each of the 40 men and women sitting at a dozen wooden tables. “The relative peace and tranquility they’ve experienced over the past few weeks is going to end, quite literally, overnight.”
No one has to tell Connie Faust what he means.
Every night, illegal immigrants head north across the “retirement hideaway” that Mrs. Faust and her husband, Ed, own four miles down the highway near the U.S.-Mexico border in Arizona.
“You have no idea how much safety and quiet you have given us, how grateful we are that you all are here,” she says to the Minuteman Project volunteers, struggling to maintain her composure.
The volunteers remain silent, but each smiles at her and nods.
“I love all of you very much,” says Mrs. Faust, one of the many women to participate in the Minuteman Project’s 30-day border vigil toprotestwhat the activists considerthe lax immigration-enforcement policies of Congress and the White House.
John Waters, who opened his diner at the antiquated Palominas Trading Post on Highway 92 as an “eating and meeting place” for the Minuteman volunteers, also knows what Mr. Gaddy means.
“All night, every night, the dogs are barking, the U.S. Border Patrol is chasing up one road or down another, and their helicopters are constantly buzzing overhead,” says Mr. Waters, whose border property is also a favorite corridor for illegals crossing into the United States.
“Since the Minutemen arrived, we’ve been able to sleep at night, and that’s no small task,” he says.
The Minuteman Project, which formally began April 1, came to an end yesterday. It was proclaimed a success by its organizers and grudgingly credited by both the U.S. and Mexican governments with significantly cutting illegal immigration along a 23-mile section of the U.S.-Mexico border east and west of here.
Known generally as the San Pedro River Valley, the high desert area targeted by the Minuteman volunteers is a favored route for illegal immigrants headed north. It is part of the Border Patrol’s Tucson sector, which is responsible for 260 miles of the border. The 2,000 agents assigned here accounted for more than 40 percent of the agency’s 1.15 million apprehensions of illegal immigrants nationwide last year.
In April 2004, Border Patrol agents caught 64,000 illegal immigrants along the stretch of border targeted by the Minuteman volunteers — more than 2,100 a day. Last month’s total, as a result of the Minuteman vigil, is expected to be fewer then 5,000.
‘Get this fixed’