Sunday, March 20, 2005

The American Civil Liberties Union has warned the 950 volunteers expected to take part next month in an Arizona border vigil against illegal immigration that it is assigning monitors to ensure none of the aliens are abused.

The warning came in the wake of meetings last week by five senators from Mexico’s three political parties, who voiced their concerns to Arizona Attorney General Terry Goddard, U.S. Attorney Paul Charlton, state legislators, civic leaders and the Arizona Hispanic Chamber of Commerce.

“We’re very worried about it,” Sen. Sadot Sanchez Carreno of the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) and chairman of the Mexican Senate’s human rights committee, told reporters in Phoenix.

In the days following the meetings, Mexico filed a diplomatic note with the United States asking for assurances the volunteers, who begin their monthlong vigil April 1 as members of the “Minuteman Project,” do not abuse Mexicans caught illegally entering the United States.

Geronimo Gutierrez, undersecretary for North American affairs at Mexico’s Foreign Ministry, wrote that actions by the volunteers “could be in violation of federal and state laws to the detriment of Mexican citizens,” adding that Mexico did not want “the rights of its citizens transgressed.”

Meanwhile, the ACLU of Arizona announced it was training legal observers to follow 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,” ACLU spokesman Ray Ybarra said. “Perhaps someday, we will live in a society where no human being will have to face death and hatred in pursuit of work that this country requires.”

Mr. Ybarra also said the organization will have lawyers on standby ready to file civil cases against the volunteers, who he described as “vigilantes” who will “attempt to take out their frustrations on a group of individuals who are simply in search of a better life.”

He said they could “come to our state as ‘vigilantes’ and end up leaving as ‘defendants.’”

James Gilchrist, a California accountant who organized the Minuteman Project, said the volunteers will be posted at 200-yard intervals a mile inside the border to observe illegal aliens coming into this country and report them to the U.S. Border Patrol, but will not confront them.

“We are American citizens who want to freely assemble under the First Amendment to express our displeasure with federal, state and local appointees who have been charged with U.S. immigration laws and have left us wide open for another terrorist attack,” Mr. Gilchrist said.

Mr. Charlton, according to spokeswoman Sandy Raynor, told the Mexican lawmakers U.S. authorities also would monitor the volunteers and that “anyone who violates anyone else’s civil rights within the United States will have to face punishment.”

Steve Wilson, spokesman for Mr. Goddard, said the attorney general told the legislators he had little jurisdiction over U.S. immigration laws or possible civil rights violations, but his office would seek to ensure no violence was aimed at the aliens or the volunteers.

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