LOS ANGELES – In the shadow of this week's huge pro-immigrant demonstrations, the opposition Minuteman Project launched a cross-country tour Wednesday to rally support for tighter border control.
The volunteer group, which patrols the border and opposes illegal immigration, hopes to mobilize voters as the caravan heads for Capitol Hill and the offices of the politicians debating immigration reform.
"Our power is not putting a million people on the street, our power is putting 10 million people at the voting box," said Stephen Eichler, the group's executive director. "Their voice is accompanied by a lot of bodies, but our voice is accompanied by even more bodies who aren't going to go out in the street."
The group hopes to counter the impact made by the more than 1 million illegal immigrants and their supporters who took to the nation's streets on Monday. Demonstrations by the Minuteman Project that day were scattered and small, often numbering fewer than 100 people per city.
Minuteman Project founder Jim Gilchrist told about 40 supporters before the group left from a park in South Los Angeles that the recent immigration marches were a "declaration of domination."
"Ours is not a racial cause. It's a rule of law cause."
About 15 protesters repeatedly interrupted the speech with screams of "Minutemen go home" and "KKK go home."
The caravan is scheduled to stop in 12 cities and arrive in Washington, D.C., for a May 12 rally.
Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, R-Tenn., has set a goal of Memorial Day for an immigration reform bill. One plan would include a guest worker program and a potential path to citizenship for 11 million illegal immigrants, another would criminalize them.
The caravan includes about 100 staff members and supporters, said Eichler. It will stop in President Bush's vacation haven of Crawford, Texas, as well as in Phoenix, Ariz.; Albuquerque, N.M.; Abilene, Texas; Little Rock, Ark.; Memphis and Nashville, Tenn.; Montgomery, Ala.; Atlanta; and Richmond, Va.
One supporter, Penny Magnotto of Upland, Calif., said she and a friend were planning to follow in their RV and visit seven additional states on their return to recruit more members.
"If one in 100 people that we meet up with kind of get it and see that we're nice family people I will be thrilled," said Magnotto, founder of the Minuteman spin-off Minutewomen on the Road.