By ROBERT MATAS
Toronto Globe and Mail
August 16, 2005
An army of American volunteers concerned about what they perceive as the wide-open border have decided to take national security into their own hands.
After a highly successful operation in Arizona last April, the so-called Minuteman Project has turned its attention to the northern border. While continuing to expand in states along the Mexican border, the group is organizing volunteers in 11 northern border states and is currently looking for recruits in eight Canadian provinces, spokesperson Connie Hair said from the organization's headquarters in Arizona.
The volunteers are worried about criminals, terrorists and illegal workers crossing the border, despite stepped-up efforts by government-funded border patrols. The group wants to bolster border security to ensure people who enter illegally are caught, Hair said.
When they spot someone crossing the border, they are expected to immediately notify the border patrol.
The Minuteman group has been characterized in the United States as armed vigilantes and widely criticized. But Hair said they are more like a Neighborhood Watch group with legitimate security concerns.
"No one ever does the math," Hair said. "In one county where the national leadership of this movement comes from, Cochise County, Arizona, 265,000 people, according to the border patrol, were apprehended illegally entering the country in 2004. The bureaucrats in border patrol say three to four people get in undetected for every one they find. ... That's over 720,000 people last year."
The Minuteman Project, associated with the Minuteman Civil Defense Corps, was formed earlier this year in response to publicity about people entering Arizona illegally. Californian Jim Gilchrist sent an e-mail to a few friends.
"He said, 'Let's get a border patrol together, called Minuteman, because this is just getting out of hand,' " Hair said. "And it just built from there."
The group carried out its first operation in April. Hundreds of people showed up to patrol a stretch of the Mexico-Arizona border. They were assisted by three unmanned aerial vehicles and 38 pilots with their own private planes.
"October is the start of the second operation and this won't end," Hair said. "We're planning to go 24/7."
As part of its effort to launch a coast-to-coast border watch, Minuteman recruited about 100 volunteers last month in Washington state. Chris Simcox, president of the civil defense corps, spent two weeks in the state organizing two chapters around the time that border authorities revealed they had discovered a tunnel connecting Washington and British Columbia for smuggling drugs, and possibly people.
Simcox has previously told a U.S. newspaper that he was concerned about Canada's openness to refugees.
"Canada just takes everybody," he told The Bellingham Herald. "These folks realize our border security is zero ... We've identified over 200 roads that cross the border in the North that have no checkpoints. It's just so easy."
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