THREE POINTS, Ariz. – Minuteman volunteers concerned about the continued flow of illegal immigrants across the border from Mexico gathered Saturday with lawn chairs, binoculars and cell phones for a new monthlong campaign aimed at raising public awareness of the issue.
A year after their first watch-and-report operation along the border in southeastern Arizona, members of the Minuteman Civil Defense Corps embarked on a much larger effort in this state's busy migrant-smuggling corridor.
"I'm concerned about what's not being done by the government — hasn't been done for ages, apparently," said J. Glenn Sorensen, a retired school administrator now living in Flagstaff.
Sorensen, who was not involved with the Minutemen last year, said he thinks the organization has accomplished part of its intended purpose already, "to draw national attention to an insecure border. I don't think anybody wants to close the border — I certainly don't. Basically, I think they need to be secure."
No one in the group had any illusions about their campaign's effectiveness, since it targets a relatively short section of the border for just a month. However, it comes at a time when Congress is debating proposals seeking to reform immigration laws, which have drawn supporters of legitimizing illegal immigrants to demonstrations in cities across the country.
"This is like sticking a finger in the dike," said Ken Raymond, a retired electrical engineer and airplane mechanic from Tucson.
At a rally kicking off the effort at a remote southern Arizona ranch Saturday afternoon, politicians and activists opposing illegal immigration gave fiery speeches calling for more border control.
At least 200 mostly older men and women heard more than a half-dozen speakers praise their efforts and call the Minutemen heroes.
Don Goldwater, a Republican candidate for Arizona governor, said he had a message for President Bush.
"Build us that wall — now!" Goldwater said, referring to a measure that would add 700 miles fences along the border. He promised that if elected, he would put illegal immigrants in a tent city on the border and use their labor to build the wall. Goldwater is a nephew of the late Sen. Barry Goldwater.
Each month, thousands of illegal immigrants cross into Arizona. So far this fiscal year, which began Oct. 1, agents have caught more than 48,000 in the area staked out this weekend, up 53 percent from the same period a year earlier.
Chris Simcox, the Minuteman group's national leader, said four watering stations placed by the group Humane Borders to keep migrants from dying in the desert will be among the sites under surveillance. Last year, more than 400 people died trying to cross the desert, many from dehydration or heat exposure, according to the U.S. Border Patrol.
"We watch them all the time," Simcox said of the water stations. "It's a great place to report illegal activities."
Bush and Mexican President Vicente Fox support a so-called guest worker program that would allow illegal immigrants already holding jobs in the U.S. to stay.
The Minutemen Saturday arriving south of Tucson plan to patrol private ranch property about 30 miles north of the border.
The group says it plans similar exercises along the border in California, New Mexico and Texas, and along the Canadian border in Washington, New Hampshire, Vermont and New York state.
In Sumas, Wash., about 150 Minuteman volunteers were keeping watch Saturday.
"We're going to be running posts both day and night," said chapter organizer Claude LeBas, whose 10-acre farm was the staging area.
Along with their binoculars, cell phones and radios, a number in Arizona wore sidearms, including state Rep. Russell Pearce, a Republican and a leading voice in the Legislature calling for a crackdown on illegal immigrants.
Those planning to patrol were under strict orders to call the Border Patrol and to avoid confronting intruders or drawing their weapons, said Simcox and Stacey O'Connell, in charge of the Arizona chapter.
Although last year's patrols were nonviolent and disciplined, there are still concerns about having armed groups in a busy trafficking area, Gus Soto, a Border Patrol spokesman, said last week.
Weapons are not part of the Northwest campaign, said LeBas, a retired U.S. Customs agent.
"We discourage the armaments up here because it's not necessary on the northern border," said LeBas, a U.S. citizen who was born in Canada. The mission is just to observe and report any infractions.
Minuteman leaders have said that all the group's members have been screened to weed out members of racist organizations.
Still, groups such as the American Civil Liberties Union-Arizona say they're concerned over "the potential for taking actions and ... attempting to enforce immigration laws," executive director Alessandra Soler Meetze said.