Thursday, May 19, 2005

Minuteman organizer James T. Gilchrist, whose 850 volunteers shut down the flow of illegal aliens along a 23-mile section of Arizona-Mexico border last month, has joined forces with another citizens group to help organize a new border vigil in California — beginning in August.

The Minuteman Project has reached an agreement with the Friends of the Border Patrol (FBP) to help promote a new “border watch” aimed at assisting U.S. Border Patrol agents in apprehending illegal aliens on the California border near San Diego.

FBP Chairman Andy Ramirez said more than 500 volunteers have signed up to patrol areas of the California-Mexico border in August, including former Border Patrol agents, retired police and military personnel and pilots. He said yesterday that at least 2,000 more applications from volunteers nationwide are still being reviewed.

The California vigil will kick off an effort by the Minuteman Project to link anti-illegal immigration groups nationwide and create a network of civilian volunteers along the nation’s borders, said Mr. Gilchrist, who lives in Aliso Viejo, Calif. He said he also intends to target employers in the near future who knowingly hire illegal aliens.

“We did in our first 10 days what the federal government and Congress couldn’t do over the past 10 years,” Mr. Gilchrist said.

The announcement of the California border watch comes in the wake of comments by California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, who praised the Minuteman Project in Arizona as bringing needed attention to the problem of illegal immigration. He also has said he would not be opposed to a similar effort in his state.

Mr. Ramirez, who formed FBP in August as a citizens advocacy group to support the Border Patrol, said that America “was built on the spirit of volunteerism” and that “citizens volunteering to defend our nation in time of war and crisis is a time-honored American tradition.”

“The job of the volunteers will be to watch the borders, avoid any physical encounter, monitor and observe, and contact the Border Patrol. That is the bottom line,” he said, putting the blame for the problem on President Bush and Mexican President Vicente Fox. “If President Bush would stop obstructing the Border Patrol and stop carrying out Fox’s immigration policies for the U.S., none of this would be necessary.”

FBP’s vigil is being called to highlight the failure of Congress and the Bush administration to secure America’s borders from illegal aliens and terrorists, Mr. Ramirez said. He said extensive training sessions for the volunteers will begin in June.

Mr. Ramirez said Mr. Gilchrist will help promote the California vigil, while he will choose the location — still under consideration — and manage the operation.

More than a dozen Border Patrol agents told The Washington Times last week that agents in Naco, Ariz., had been ordered not to arrest illegal aliens along the section patrolled by the Minutemen because an increase in apprehensions after the volunteers left would prove the effectiveness of their border vigil. They said supervisors at the Naco station instructed them during daily briefings that arrests were “not to go up.”

Border Patrol Chief David V. Aguilar at the agency’s Washington headquarters has denied the accusations, but several other agents have since come forward to confirm the instructions.

A total of 857 volunteers participated in the 30-day Minuteman vigil in Arizona, where they protested the lax U.S. immigration enforcement policies by trying to reduce the flow of illegal aliens along popular immigration and drug smuggling corridors east and west of Naco.

Their goal was to show that increased manpower on the border effectively would deter illegal immigration. Organizers said the protest resulted in Border Patrol arrests of 349 illegal aliens, and Border Patrol field agents said the flow of illegal aliens through the targeted area dropped from 500 apprehensions a day to about 15 a day.

Border Patrol supervisors in Arizona have discounted the Minuteman efforts, saying a drop in apprehensions during the border protest was because of the Mexican government’s deployment of military and police south of the targeted area and the Arizona Border Control Initiative Phase II, which brought additional agents to the state.

The supervisors blamed the volunteers for unnecessarily tripping sensors, disturbing draglines and interfering with the normal operations of the agents. They said their impact on illegals was “negligible,” adding that civilians should leave immigration enforcement “to the professionals.”

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