- The Washington Times - Monday, October 24, 2005

HACHITA, N.M. — Known as “J-Man,” the 25-year-old college student moves silently along a rock-strewn ridge overlooking the Playas Valley here, looking for aliens and drug smugglers crossing the rugged high desert into the United States from Mexico.

On top of a large lava outcropping known as the Towers, he is working what is called a “detached post” with two other Minuteman Civil Defense Corps volunteers, “Shorty” and “Grizzly,” who man similar vantage points on opposite sides of the expansive ridge.

J-Man reports his position by walkie-talkie to his team leader, “White Shadow,” a 76-year-old retired California man stationed atop the ridge, and returns to his binoculars trained on the valley stretched below as far as the eye can see.

Five miles south of the Towers is Chalk Hill, a huge chunk of limestone jutting more than 300 feet above the dry desert soil. Atop that mound is John Hendricks, 48, of Tampa, Fla., another Minuteman volunteer who serves as the leader of Team 2. He also keeps track of his team members, scattered around the hill at detached posts, by walkie-talkie.

Team 2 has a commanding view of both the Playas Valley and the adjacent Animus Canyon, where illegal aliens and drug smugglers scurry every day to make connections on nearby Highway 9, an easy ride to Interstate 10 and major cities both east and west.

J-Man and the two team leaders reflect the diversity of the 160 Minuteman volunteers who signed up to stand watches along the isolated and often-desolate New Mexico border. They came from throughout the United States, from Washington state and California to Alabama and Florida.

More than 200 illegal aliens are caught every day by the U.S. Border Patrol along this desolate area of the New Mexico border, although an estimated 600 or more daily make their way to Highway 9 and other pickup spots.

Arizona has become the focal point of a law-enforcement initiative by the Border Patrol, forcing more and more illegal aliens — and drug smugglers — to New Mexico.

The agency recently assigned agents out of El Paso to augment the New Mexico effort, but it is a daunting challenge.

“I came out here to help protect my country,” said the University of New Mexico student, who asked not to be identified. “A country without a secure border is a country that cannot guarantee its security.

“Even if 99.9 percent of the illegal aliens getting through America’s porous southern border are good, decent, hard-working people just looking for a better way of life, that leaves a very large number that could be terrorists.”

“White Shadow,” Paul Murphy of Huntington Beach, Calif., agrees.

“In the post-September 11 world, we have to have a secure border,” Mr. Murphy said. “That’s why I’m here. That’s why we all are here. That’s the message we want to send to Washington.”

Mr. Hendricks, a software consultant, said the Minuteman effort here — part of a massive border vigil all along the U.S.-Mexico border and in seven states along the Canadian border — is aimed at persuading the government to provide adequate border security.

“The White House and Congress must be accountable to the American people and a secure border is imperative in this time of international terrorism, drugs and rising illegal immigration,” he said.

Robert Wright, the Hobbs, N.M., businessman who organized the New Mexico effort, said the goal of the Minuteman vigil is to “keep pressure on Washington to come up with an effective border enforcement program to secure the nation’s borders.”

The Minutemen here are based in the Hachita Community Center, in the middle of an abandoned town of fewer than 75 people. Sitting in the high desert at an elevation of 4,500 feet, Hachita was selected as the headquarters site because of its location at the junction of State Highways 9 and 81.

“It’s a high-profile corridor for both the alien smugglers and the drug dealers.” said Gary Cole, one of the Minuteman organizers who helped coordinate the group’s successful April border vigil in Arizona.

“We’re here to help the Border Patrol and to bring attention to the problems of an unsecured border,” Mr. Cole said. “We’re trying to deliver a message to Washington that it’s time to protect these borders.”

Highway 81 crosses into Mexico at Antelope Wells, some 45 miles south of here, where it becomes Mexican Highway 2. Alien and drug smugglers are taking their cargoes through the harsh Playas Valley and nearby Animus Canyon to Interstate 10, where the aliens and the drugs are routed both east and west.

Ironically, this major alien- and drug-smuggling corridor is adjacent to a Department of Homeland Security training facility in the abandoned mining town of Playas.

“These guys are walking right on the doorstep of a Homeland Security training facility,” Mr. Cole said. “Someone ought to take notice of that.”


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