Monday, October 10, 2005

FALFURRIAS, Texas — Minuteman volunteers have been responsible for the apprehension of hundreds of illegal aliens since they started their border vigils in April, but their biggest catch may be a prominent Texas veterinarian.

Dr. Michael Vickers, a cattle rancher and a leading Republican Party committeeman in south Texas, has joined the Minutemen, bringing what many say is credibility to an organization labeled as “vigilantes” by President Bush, a fellow Texan.

“He believes in America. He believes in the rule of law. He believes in what we are doing, and his help has been invaluable,” said Al Garza, Texas president of the Minuteman Civil Defense Corps, which began foot and horse patrols here Saturday that will continue indefinitely.

Walking through mounds of trash left on his property, the MV Ranch, by the hordes of illegal aliens who cross every night, Dr. Vickers said he joined the Minutemen because federal and state officials have failed to seriously address illegal immigration and its impact on America.

“I decided we had to kick up as much dust as we could, and this was a good way to do it, for the sake of our country,” he said. “We know the border is not secure. We don’t need to prove that.”

“Over the past five years, the illegal-alien traffic has been horrendous,” he said. “More than a thousand aliens pass through here every night. Our fences are being cut. Our homes and barns are being vandalized. Our families are frightened.”

Joining the protest, said Dr. Vickers — who is active in Texas politics and a longtime supporter of and classmate at Texas A&M with Texas Gov. Rick Perry — was not an easy decision. He did so after meeting with the group’s leaders and listening “carefully” to what they had to say.

Dr. Vickers said he was “very disappointed” by Mr. Bush’s characterization of the Minutemen as vigilantes. He said the comment hurt Mr. Bush politically in Texas.

“I have supported every Republican from dogcatcher to president, and I am disappointed that the party can’t see or doesn’t understand the magnitude of this problem,” he said.

“The response by Congress and the White House has been anemic, and sitting here on the border every day as I do, I just can’t tell if the Department of Homeland Security actually exists,” he said.

Dr. Vickers’ property is located in what is known as the U.S. Highway 281 corridor, where more than 360,000 illegal aliens cross each year en route from Mexico to cities in the United States. Although about 70 miles from the border, the illegals — and their smugglers — use the area because of its remoteness and its extensive network of little-used roads.

Dr. Vickers, the veterinarian who first identified the strain of anthrax later implicated in the killing of five persons in the bioterrorism attacks in Washington, Florida and New York in 2001, not only won access for the Minutemen to more than 100,000 acres of private land along the south Texas border, but also promises from fellow ranchers that could expand that area by another 800,000 acres.

Fences in the area, used to keep the cattle from wandering onto the highways, are cut nightly. Some ranchers have moved their livestock to other areas because of the cost of repairing the nightly damage.

“It costs me $180 a day — every day — to pay a crew to repair the fences around my property,” Dr. Vickers said, adding that his cattle are found nightly on Highway 281. He said he and others pick up 200 articles of clothing and as many as 50 empty water jugs every day.

Dr. Vickers says the U.S. Border Patrol is doing what it can, but lacks sufficient manpower and equipment.

“The threat of terrorism is real and with the hordes of people coming across this border every day, there’s no guarantee that many of them are not terrorists looking to once again bring harm to the United States,” he said.

Dr. Vickers said a “good number” of the illegal aliens crossing through the Highway 281 corridor are what the Border Patrol refers to as “other than Mexicans.” He said he has found documents, letters and money on his ranch from a number of countries, including Sudan and China.

The Minutemen, most of whom are retired military personnel and law enforcement officers, conduct patrols along what are known as “laundry lines,” which are located through different ranches in the area from east to west. The lines let the volunteers spot illegal aliens, notify the Border Patrol and then retreat. No contact is allowed.

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