The Associated Press
TUCSON, Arizona- A controversial civilian border patrol group is planning a return to Arizona in two weeks to again confront the problem of illegal immigration.Some say the original Minuteman Project conducted in April 2005 in Cochise County and a subsequent patrol in October brought increased national attention to the Arizona stretch of the U.S.-Mexico border.
"I think we've clearly been the catalyst that has sparked the national debate," said Minuteman president Chris Simcox. "That's been our goal, to bring national attention to the fact that the government has failed miserably to bring control to the southern border."
However many Hispanic groups and advocates for immigrant rights still call the Minuteman group racist or vigilantes.
"The thing we objected to here is it brought out a lot of nativist sentiment and that's not America at its best," said the Rev. Robin Hoover, president of Tucson-based Humane Borders.
Simcox said his group will continue to plan monthlong patrols every six months until the federal government gains control of the border.
"If the Senate does not pass a border security bill soon, you are going to see our numbers double probably by the end of the summer," he said. "People are frustrated and I think this political process of coming to the border and setting up a lawn chair and saying, `We have the will to do it,' sends a strong message to Washington, D.C."
Simcox said he is expecting about 1,000 Minuteman Civil Defense Corps volunteers in Arizona for the next patrol, expected to start April 1 and last for one month.
He said the group counts 6,500 volunteers in 31 chapters, although the number is unsubstantiated.
Each volunteer passes a criminal background check, interview and training, according to Simcox.
He said the group chose to patrol the Altar Valley this time because it is the most heavily trafficked corridor this fiscal year.
The group will also conduct patrols in New Mexico, Texas and California on the U.S.-Mexico border, and in Washington state, New York and Vermont on the U.S.-Canada border, Simcox added.
Border Patrol spokesman Johnny Bernal said Minuteman Civil Defense Corps volunteers have not broken laws or violated civil rights in their past patrols. President George W. Bush has expressed opposition to what he called border "vigilantes."
Simcox called the claims that his group represents a threat to illegal immigrants "outrageous" and said none of the group's members has attacked anyone.
But Hoover said the group's patrols are unrealistic and ineffective. He would like to see them set up camp in remote areas rather than close to highways and towns.
"We have 300 miles (480 kilometers) of border down here and they are playing around on five miles (eight kilometers)," Hoover said.