- The Washington Times - Sunday, May 1, 2005

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 to protest what the activists consider the 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’

But the illegals will return, law enforcement authorities and residents of the area say. The route into the United States through this region of Arizona desert is well-established, convenient to major northbound highways and familiar territory to the alien smugglers, or “coyotes,” who frequent the area.

Stopped by the Minuteman blockade, dozens of would-be illegal immigrants huddled nightly in the desert less than a mile south of the border near Naco, east of here, and high in the canyons above Highway 92, along the Huachuca Mountains to the west. Invisible in the pitch-black Arizona night, they were detectable only through infrared and night-vision equipment set up by the volunteers.

The Mexican government rounded up hundreds of those migrants, moving them 25 miles east to Douglas, and 80 miles west to Nogales — warning them that “armed vigilantes” on the U.S. side of the border were looking to hurt them. That effort is not expected to continue.

“This is not about violence or racism or hate, but the rule of law, and none of us are looking to hurt anyone,” says Bob Wright, owner of a butane factory in Hobbs, N.M., who helped scout out observation posts for the Minuteman volunteers. “The situation on this border is a tragedy, both for America and for Mexico.

“I would hope the two governments will try to do something permanent to resolve this chaos, since what is happening to the people who risk their lives to come into the United States is a travesty,” he says as he watches Mexican authorities round up migrants trapped on their side of the border. “There has to be a way to get this thing fixed.”

More than 800 Minuteman volunteers from 44 states stood watch along the border at one time or another at two dozen observation posts, which were manned 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

But besides protesting federal policy, they also sought to show their support for the Border Patrol, saying the government had failed to provide the agency sufficient manpower and technology to stop the millions of illegal immigrants who enter the United States each year.

Between 12 million and 20 million illegal immigrants are believed to be in the country and, according to most polls, the public believes border control by the U.S. government has failed.

“We have completed our mission,” says James T. Gilchrist, the retired certified public accountant from California and combat-wounded Vietnam veteran who founded the Minuteman Project. “These courageous volunteers successfully demonstrated that ordinary citizens have not only the will but the means to secure our borders.

“They accomplished in the first 10 days what the government hasn’t been able to do in the past 10 years — control this border,” Mr. Gilchrist says. “They proved that a physical presence along the border — additional people — will deter illegal immigration.”

More action vowed

Chris Simcox, a Tombstone, Ariz., newspaper publisher and founder of Arizona’s Civil Homeland Defense Corps, promises a shutdown of the U.S.-Mexico border beginning in October from California to Texas. He says he’ll do it with a civilian force of new volunteers if the U.S. government fails to respond to what the “obvious success” of the Minuteman Project.

“I believe we can raise tens of thousands of willing volunteers for a new, multistate border project involving men and women ready, willing and able to do the job our president and Congress will not do,” Mr. Simcox says.

His Civil Homeland Defense Corps joined with the Minuteman volunteers to patrol the border and later took over operational control.

“I think the message to our elected officials is clear: You will do what obviously is the will of the public regarding immigration enforcement, or we will shut down the border ourselves,” he says. “There will be no compromise. We will continue to exercise our legal civic duty until relieved by the National Guard or the U.S. military.”

The Minuteman volunteers targeted two areas along the border: state Highway 92 at the base of the Huachuca Mountains, 20 miles south of Sierra Vista, population 39,000 and the largest city in Cochise County, and a primitive, dirt road four miles east of Naco, which parallels a frayed, four-strand, barbed-wire fence — the only barrier here separating the United States and Mexico.

Illegal immigrants have overrun the many oak tree-covered canyons and washes that flow out of the Huachuca Mountains and intersect with Highway 92, where numerous expensive houses have been built in recent years.

“They’re hiding in the bushes, waiting to hook up with the smugglers in the very same area our children wait for the school bus,” says Cindy Kolb, who has lived in the canyon area with her family for the past six years and waits for the bus with her daughter daily, armed with a pistol holstered on her ankle. “Maybe President Bush doesn’t care about this, but many of us do.”

Two weeks ago, Mrs. Kolb stood alongside the highway as the Border Patrol rounded up about 30 illegal immigrants who had been spotted and reported by the Minuteman volunteers.

“Thank you, Border Patrol. Thank you, Minuteman volunteers,” she shouted, jumping several times into the air with both hands raised high above her head.

Hundreds of illegals also flood across the border nightly east of Naco, a town of 800. They travel over well-worn trails in the Mexican desert, crossing into the United States through the barbed-wire fence that has been cut and mended hundreds of times. Their destination is Highway 80, about 10 miles north.

The illegals, many of whom have paid a “coyote” between $1,000 and $1,500 each to be brought into this country, are looking to catch prearranged rides on the two state highways, where they will be collected and moved to “safe houses” in Tucson and Phoenix. Eventually, they will be transported both east and west on interstate highways taking them to jobs and other ventures from California to New York.

Seeing the light

The goal of the Minuteman Project, Mr. Gilchrist and Mr. Simcox say, was not to catch illegal immigrants but to draw nationwide attention — including coverage on network and cable TV news — to the issue of immigration enforcement and the potential for lapses in border security.

Minuteman volunteers, some of whom were armed, were instructed in person and in writing on numerous occasions not to make contact with the illegal immigrants they observed crossing into the United States, only to report them to the Border Patrol.

Many volunteers carried global positioning systems, shortwave radios, walkie-talkies, binoculars and cell phones.

Although the majority was assigned to the observation posts, some — mostly former military personnel — operated as long-range reconnaissance teams, scouting the desert to report on the movement of illegals and drug smugglers, who also frequent the area. Several volunteers are pilots who used planes to scan the target area.

There were no reported incidents of violence. President Bush, however, during a meeting in Texas with Mexican President Vicente Fox and Canadian Prime Minister Paul Martin, referred to the volunteers as “vigilantes.”

Mr. Bush’s use of the term rankled many volunteers, including Mr. Simcox, who called it disrespectful.

“By definition, a vigilante is someone who takes the law into their own hands — the judge, jury and executioner,” he says. “That definition, by anyone’s measure, does not describe what we did here. A better description would have been a neighborhood-watch organization that sought to work with law enforcement to help secure this border.”

‘National disgrace’

Reps. J.D. Hayworth of Arizona and Tom Tancredo of Colorado, both Republican members of the Congressional Immigration Reform Caucus, say Mr. Bush maligned the Minuteman volunteers and should apologize.

“What the Minutemen proved to the American people was this: The federal government can do something about illegal immigration other than to raise a white flag and surrender to the invasion on our Southern border,” says Mr. Hayworth, who visited the volunteers.

“They not only discouraged the illegal crossing of our border, if only temporarily, but they also cast light on a national disgrace,” he says. “I hope more members of Congress and more officials in this administration will see the light and join us to strongly enforce our laws against illegal immigration.”

Minuteman volunteer Dottie Dalton, 66, a grandmother from Murrieta, Calif., puts it in a more folksy way.

“We’re not vigilantes,” she says, “we’re vigil-aunties.”

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