Minuteklan say they've made a difference, but critics disagree
As their month-long border deployment draws to an end, leaders of the Minuteman Civil Defense Corps say their efforts have brought more attention to the illegal immigration issue and more supporters to their border security movement.
"It's helped to gather more volunteers, and it's also helped to further debate," said Stacey O'Connell, state director of the group that opposes illegal immigration and demands government action to secure the border.
"This is the time to make the nation aware of how poor our border security is, and I think we've been very successful in doing that this month."
Jennifer Allen, director of the immigrant rights advocacy group Border Action Network, said the group's presence along the border have done nothing to bring real solutions to the problems along the border.
"They further distract the general public and policymakers from real solutions that can provide for meaningful immigration reform and that can provide for real security on the border."
The Minutemen, Allen said, are clouding the immigration reform issue.
"They continue to provoke fear and have been inciting anti-immigrant violence," she said.
However, there have been no reports of violence connected with any Minuteman operations since the inception of the organization.
Despite that fact, Alessandra Soler Meetze, executive director of the American Civil Liberties-
Meetze claims that there have been two minor, nonviolent incidents in
Since April 1, several hundred Minuteman volunteers have spent time stationed on private ranch lands, watching for and phoning in sightings to the Border Patrol.
Minuteman chapters also have been active along both the Mexican and Canadian borders.
As of Thursday, O'Connell said Minuteman observers had reported to the Border Patrol seeing 1,300 people crossing through the
But according to Border Patrol figures, citizen calls of sightings dropped significantly in April compared to the month before the Minuteman operations; so did apprehensions throughout the
In March, there were 1,240 calls, but the number dropped to 955 through Wednesday, said agency spokesman Gustavo Soto. In addition, apprehensions of illegal immigrants dropped by 19,000, or 30 percent, from March through the first 26 days of April, Soto said.
Border Patrol spokesmen have said officials are neutral about the Minutemen, neither endorsing their observe-and-report efforts nor criticizing them.
"We don't know what kind of impact they made, if any," said Chuy Rodriguez, another spokesman for the patrol.
"We don't distinguish to see who's making the (citizen) calls."
Mike Albon, a spokesman for Local 2544, a union representing Border Patrol agents in the
He said he also did not know whether their efforts could be classified as helpful or a hindrance. "We're basically neutral to their activity, but they have not interfered, so that's a plus."
In fact, he said legal observers affiliated with the American Civil Liberties Union's Arizona chapter watching the Minutemen to prevent any harassment or rights violations of illegal immigrants "have interfered more" than the Minutemen.
O'Connell accused ACLU volunteers of shining flashlights in the faces of Minutemen at night and of videotaping them and their license plates. He also said they have flashed lights into the desert, honked horns and made other noise, allegedly to alert illegal immigrants coming through the area that Minutemen were present.
"If that's what they're doing, that would definitely at night interfere with our operations," Albon said.
Meetze, the ACLU director, said, "That's not our intention and that's not the way that we operate and intend to operate. We're not there to get involved and to interfere with the work of the Border Patrol."
The goal of the ACLU's volunteers, she said, is to be observers.
The Minutemen, she acknowledged, "have been able to exercise their free speech and get their message across that they don't agree with the way our government is enforcing immigration laws."
The ACLU also is present, she added, "to enable them to express their rights. They have a right to express themselves. They just don't have a right to cross the line and take the law into their own hands."
The Minutemen will continue volunteer patrol activities in states where the group has chapters one weekend each month as well as monthly operations each April and October, said O'Connell.
One supervisor, he said, "was just ecstatic that we were there and able to help in this way."
But he also said that there is fear among rank-and-file agents of retribution from superiors if they show or publicly express support for the Minutemen.
Rodriguez, the Border Patrol spokesman, said, "I couldn't speak for that comment at all."