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Citizen Watch Group Gets Mixed Reaction on US-Mexico Border

The citizen volunteer group known as the Minutemen has come to Texas with the aim of replicating the border watch they carried out in April along the U.S.-Mexico border in Arizona. But not everyone has welcomed them.

There were cheers and jeers at the town hall in Goliad where around 250 people gathered Monday evening to hear Minuteman co-founder Chris Simcox and others talk about their efforts to stop the flow of illegal immigrants at the border. Several Hispanic citizens denounced the Minutemen as racists, something the Minutemen vehemently deny.

Chris Simcox said the idea behind the movement is to force the U.S. government to take effective action on both the Mexican and Canadian borders to prevent illegal aliens, drug smugglers and terrorists from crossing. He said he is warning officials in Washington to take action or else the Minutemen will stage even larger deployments.

If we do not see the National Guard or the U.S. military on that border by October, we are going to do it again and this time we are going to have 20,000 volunteers on both borders," Mr. Simcox said. "And if you [the U.S. government] don't do it again, we will give you another warning, in six more months if you do not put the U.S. military or National Guard on the border, you might be faced with an army of 100,000 citizens, this time to create a blockade, by next April."

Skeptics, however, question the ability of Mr. Simcox to deliver on his threat, noting that the few hundred volunteers who turned up in Arizona in April was far short of the thousands that had been expected. Mr. Simcox, however, says his organization is expanding to many other states and even Canada.

A few protesters stood outside the community hall where the meeting was held holding placards denouncing the Minutemen.

Che Lopez, a Hispanic community leader from San Antonio, criticized what Mr. Simcox and his group are doing.

"We are against them forming groups anywhere," he said. "Them forming groups with arms is an act of racism. We feel the United States is promoting no-to-terrorism and peace around the world when, in fact, these groups are taking up arms and that is in itself a terrorist act. We feel it is a war on immigrants."

But there were also a number of Hispanics from the Goliad area in the crowd who viewed the Minutemen in a different light. Some said they have become concerned by the heavy flow of illegal immigrants coming up the highway from the border heading for Houston or other cities to the north. They are also alarmed by an increase in violence along the border associated with drug smugglers on the Mexican side.

One of the Minutemen from Arizona who spoke at the meeting was Al Garza, a Mexican-American who was born and raised in Texas. He says the notion that the Minutemen are anti-Hispanic vigilantes is totally wrong.

"We are not vigilantes," he said. "We are not out there hurting, or shooting or killing anybody. Our country is based on laws. We have laws here that must be followed. We follow them and obey them as Americans. There is no reason why an outsider, in this case illegal immigrants who cross our borders, should be breaking our laws. We do have laws here that they need to abide by."

Goliad is a community of some 2,000 people located around 280 kilometers north of the major border crossing at Laredo. The town has a deep historic resonance for many Texans because of the massacre near an old Spanish fort here of more than 300 Texas revolutionaries by Mexican forces in 1836. But Hispanics relate to local history with a somewhat different perspective, recalling the lynching of Mexican-Americans that occurred in Goliad and other south Texas communities in times past.

Goliad County Commissioner Jim Kreneck says there is harmony in the community today that could be threatened by the recent influx of illegal immigrants.

"It is going to disrupt it some because you have some people who are sympathetic with the immigrants coming in," he said. "They are looking for a better life. The bottom line is that it is against the law and the law should be upheld. I think it is a federal issue and I am disappointed that the federal government is not controlling our borders better."

Mr. Kreneck says one of the reasons he is intrigued by the Minutemen citizen-volunteer approach to the problem is that law enforcement costs have skyrocketed for the local community and there are not enough resources available to confront the problem. Local property owners say they are disturbed by large numbers of people passing through at night, sometimes leaving trash behind.

Minuteman Al Garza says he would like to work with local ranchers and property owners to help them organize.

"That is one way. The other way is for us to train them in what we know works, as we have implemented in the past, to train them to do it and then train other groups to come in and take our place," he said.

The Minutemen operate as a citizen watch group and report any suspicious activity to the U.S. Border Patrol or other law enforcement agencies. Some members have legal permits to carry weapons, but most are not armed. The operating procedures established by the group prohibit any direct contact with suspects.

Local law enforcement officials in Cochise County, Arizona say there were no incidents of abuse of immigrants or any other illegal activity on the part of the Minutemen during their month-long deployment along the border there.