SEATTLE – A group of civilian vigilantes have taken post along America's northern border in hopes of strengthening what they see as a vulnerable security system in this country. Armed with radios and binoculars, the "Minutemen," as they are called, are looking for foreigners crossing illegally into Washington state.
To some they are patriotic heroes, but to others their views are racist and unfair. Some local residents in areas patrolled by the Minutemen are saying these amateur border guards are the real danger.
"That is a racist organization that is blatantly anti-immigrant and blatantly — for me, anti-Mexican — and I have a problem with that," said Rosalinda Guillen of the Coalition for Professional Law and Border Enforcement. (search)
The Minutemen gained national attention last spring with their first foray into national security along Arizona's border with Mexico. Hundreds of volunteers produced a front that deterred illegal border crossing, and arrests of illegal immigrants dropped significantly during that time.
The all-volunteer coalition is aware though of some recent attacks on their values, and some local politicians and activists are now calling for the Minutemen to disperse.
The Washington Democratic Party and Bellingham City Council both drafted resolutions denouncing the Minutemen, a group they say is a magnet for dangerous militia type groups.
Tom Williams of the Northern Minuteman Project (search) said, "We just want everyone to come through the ports of entry like you and I do, and sign in and let Homeland Security figure out if they're supposed to be here or not."
"We don't want people walking across the border and blowing something up," he said.
Critics warn that not only is the process unfair, it's dangerous and it's only a matter of time before there's trouble.
"I don't want somebody thinking just because my son might be brown-skinned or something, walking around, that 'Oh my God, he looks like a terrorist,' or 'Oh my God, he looks like an illegal alien — I'm going to detain him with a gun,'" said Terry Bornemann of the Bellingham City Council.
The minutemen stress they don't detain anyone, they simply alert Border Control and are there as a deterrent. Although the Border Control security forces have tripled in size since 9/11, critics say they're still not up to their monumental task.
"We still continue to experience smuggling activity. We also have concerns about terrorists entering the country," said Whatcom County Sheriff Bill Elfo.
For all the controversy generated by the presence of the Minutemen, two weeks of northern patrols have produced not a single incident of illegal border crossing at their locations, nor a single complaint lodged about their conduct.
Originally only planning to stay on the border for a few weeks in October, the group has pledged to stay longer to prove they are not a danger to society, but are rather there to protect it.