- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 29, 2005

NACO, Ariz. — Dozens of members of civil rights and human rights groups are gathering here to monitor the 1,000 “Minuteman Project” volunteers who this weekend will begin notifying the Border Patrol of illegal aliens entering the United States.

The groups also are planning to protest the protesters of illegal immigration by forming a human chain across the border and by warning border crossers of the project’s presence.

“The essence of what we are doing is trying to prevent any violence,” said Armando Navarro, a University of California at Riverside professor who heads the National Alliance for Human Rights. “The intent is to call attention to the fact that this anti-immigrant sentiment is growing.”

He said despite promises by Minuteman organizers that the volunteers will not confront the illegal aliens, he is concerned splinter organizations or rogue members could violate the pledge.

Minuteman volunteers, who plan to begin patrolling a 20-mile stretch of the U.S.-Mexico border in Arizona Saturday, say they welcome the oversight and are simply demanding that President Bush and Congress give the Border Patrol the manpower necessary to seal the border.

“They have their First Amendment rights, just as we do,” said David Heppler, the Minuteman Project’s safety and security coordinator. “They can assemble and protest, just as we can, and we invite them to do it.”

But Christian Ramirez, director of the American Friends Service Committee in San Diego, and the American Civil Liberties Union of Arizona consider the project a “vigilante operation” that necessitates close observation. Both groups are putting observers in the field to follow, monitor and document the activities of the Minuteman volunteers.

“The purpose of legal observers is to deter abuses, document the actions of these individuals, and highlight the real tragedies that occur along the border,” said ACLU spokesman Ray Ybarra, adding that the organization will have lawyers on standby to file civil cases against the Minuteman volunteers.

“The vigilantes are symbolic of the fear and misunderstanding that exists in our society. While overcoming this attitude is the ultimate challenge that we as a society must strive for, we cannot sit idly by while those who are motivated by fear and misunderstanding attempt to take out their frustrations on a group of individuals who are simply in search of a better life,” he said.

The Minuteman vigil formally kicks off Saturday and Sunday with rallies outside the U.S. Border Patrol stations in Naco and Douglas.

“Because there is a potential for thousands of people to show up for the rally, we must all display the utmost responsible and courteous behavior,” wrote organizer Chris Simcox in a notice to the volunteers.

“The message should be that this is about national security. Stop the criminals, stop the terrorists, protect us from gangs — uphold the rule of law and ensure that immigrants come legally.”

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