NACO, Ariz. — The “Granny Brigade,” Carmen Mercer and Connie Foust, sits silently in the pitch-black desert night at their Minuteman observation post just a few yards from the dirt road and four-strand barbed-wire fence that separates the United States and Mexico.
With the temperature dropping into the low 40s and the wind whipping across the high desert, they wrap their legs in warm blankets. As sector bosses for more than two dozen Minuteman Civil Defense Corps volunteers on the night shift along what is known as the Naco line, the women, who have a combined eight grandchildren, scan the area with a night-vision scope.
Suddenly, a dozen black-clad illegal aliens, some wearing scarves over their faces, scurry out of Mexico, having crossed silently under a railroad trestle near a dirt road about a half-mile south of the border — using the rugged terrain and the area’s brushy mesquite trees as cover.
“They were on us before we knew it,” said Mrs. Mercer, a petite woman with a large .38-caliber revolver strapped to her hip. “They couldn’t have been more than 10 feet from us, and we were looking right at them.
“We dropped to the ground, and I don’t think they saw us,” she said, gesturing with her arms as she relived the moment. “We whispered into the radio to report their position, hoping someone would hear us. It was very scary, but that’s what we came out here to do.”
The women’s call had been heard by their Minuteman colleagues and several of the illegals later were rounded up by the U.S. Border Patrol, which responded after being called by the volunteers.
Mrs. Mercer who is divorced, met and married a U.S. serviceman stationed in her native Germany in 1979, later coming with him to the United States and becoming a U.S. citizen. She said the U.S. government’s inability to keep massive numbers of illegal aliens out of the country is unfair to those legal immigrants who spend years trying to become U.S. citizens.
“I love America and all that it stands for,” she said. “For those of us who stood in line and waited to become a part of this great country, it is unfair that others can ignore the process and the government doesn’t seem to care.”
Mrs. Mercer, who owns a restaurant in Tombstone, Ariz., and Mrs. Foust, whose “retirement hideaway” with her husband, Bill, in nearby Palominas, Ariz., has been overrun by illegals, have been involved with the Minutemen effort since its inception.
The grandmothers, dubbed the “Granny Brigade” by their colleagues, led the Minuteman’s October effort in southern Arizona — targeting the more than 6,000 illegal aliens who cross into Arizona everyday through a 260-mile corridor known as the Tucson sector, only about a third of whom are caught.
“The illegal aliens eventually found out where we were stationed so they went around us,” Mrs. Mercer said. “Our presence here proved that additional Border Patrol agents or National Guard troops on the border will effectively close it to illegal entry.”
More than 4,500 Minuteman volunteers participated in the 30-day vigil to protest what they consider the U.S. lax immigration policies, manning observation posts and conducting foot and horseback patrols along the Mexican border from Texas to California and in seven states on the Canadian border.
Mrs. Mercer and Mrs. Foust directed the Minuteman operations along the Mexico border, while a separate Minuteman outpost was established near the junction of State Highways 86 and 286 — 20 miles west of Tucson and 50 miles north of the border.
The area is where illegals who have successfully crossed the border travel to make connections on Interstate 10 and, eventually, to cities east and west.
“This area is a choke point for the illegal aliens headed north, which currently number about 1,500 a day,” said Robert Kuhn, a Vietnam veteran who serves as the area’s Minuteman sector boss. “I hope our presence here and elsewhere will attract the attention of the White House and Congress and that they will wake up to the fact that we have a serious problem down here.”