TUCSON, Ariz. – Organizers of a project that uses civilian volunteers to watch for illegal immigrants and smugglers along the Arizona-Mexico border want to expand their efforts to other border states this fall.
Participants in the Minuteman Project (search) have been patrolling a stretch of the southeastern Arizona border since earlier this month, but they would like to organize patrols in other high-traffic smuggling areas.
Minuteman organizer Chris Simcox (search) said the project "ignited a national wave of support" with its goal of securing the border against illegal immigrants, smugglers and potential terrorists. He said an expansion would take at least four months.
The volunteers, some of whom are armed, began spreading out earlier this month along a 23-mile stretch of desert between the border communities of Naco and Douglas. They may alert authorities when they see someone cross the border, but are not allowed to detain anyone.
Angela Kelley, deputy director of the pro-immigrant National Immigration Forum (search) in Washington, doubts that the Minuteman Project will result in lasting change.
"The Minutemen can urge their friends to come spend the warm summer months in the desert, but I don't know that that's going to address our concerns about changing our immigration policy," she said.
Law enforcement officials have said they fear the project will lead to vigilante violence, an accidental confrontation between armed volunteers and authorities, or a dangerous encounter with the violent smugglers who use the area.
Minuteman spokesmen said their patrols have resulted in 268 arrests of illegal immigrants since April 4.
The Border Patrol (search) has acknowledged receiving 317 calls from Naco and Douglas, resulting in 846 arrests, but the agency will not say whether any of those calls came from project volunteers. Border agents have caught 2,373 people in the Naco area this month.
Arizona is considered the most vulnerable stretch of the 2,000-mile southern U.S. border. Of the 1.1 million illegal immigrants caught by the Border Patrol last year, more than half crossed the border through Arizona.