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Minuteman Citizen Group Angers Hispanics, Has Political Aspirations

The Minuteman citizen watch group gained worldwide attention in April when it staged an operation along a stretch of the U.S.-Mexico border in Arizona. The group's success in stopping illegal immigration activity in that sector drew the attention of politicians, and Minuteman organizers testified before Congress in May. Now, as VOA's Greg Flakus reports from Goliad, Texas, they are planning even bigger events and drawing more fire from critics.

Around 200 people came to a community hall in Goliad recently to hear Minuteman co-founder Chris Simcox. "We seem to be making sure that we are safe in Iraq and Afghanistan and Korea and other countries and if we can protect their borders, I darn well expect my government to protect mine."

But not everyone here welcomed the Minutemen. Some Hispanics denounced them as racist vigilantes.

Part of the distrust is based on history. Goliad was built near the old Spanish Presidio de Bahia, where Mexican forces massacred over 300 Texas revolutionaries in 1836. In following years, after Texas won its independence, Anglos lynched dozens of Mexican-Americans here.

Local organizers of the Minuteman meeting touched some raw nerves by drawing on Texas history in their call for action on the border.

"Over 30 different states of the United States aided Texas in its fight for independence. Once again at this time, we are asking brothers to help us in the battle of securing the Texas border," said one organizer.

Such talk stirs anger among some Texas Hispanics. Che Lopez, a Mexican-American activist from San Antonio was one of them. "Part of the history we have here, especially in Texas, we know that this used to be Mexico. So, what we are saying is that the border crossed us, we did not cross the border."

Minuteman supporters reject protestors' charges that they are racist or anti-immigrant.

Al Garza, a Mexican-American who was born in Texas and now lives in Arizona, joined the group after witnessing Chris Simcox provide aid to some Mexican migrants in the desert.

"He gave them water, he gave them food and medicine and he called paramedics. He saved lives,” said Mr. Garza.

For his part, Chris Simcox says the effort to stop illegal border crossings, if combined with effective immigration reform, could benefit immigrants. "Securing our borders and the movement to do that is actually pro-immigrant: we stop the deaths in the desert, we stop the exploitation, we stop the human smuggling, we shut down an immoral industry, because that is the American way."

Chris Simcox says he is also trying to build a political movement with the Minuteman project, to expand operations all over the country and put pressure on politicians in Washington to do more to secure the nation's borders. But politicians are also likely to hear more from Hispanic organizations and others who distrust the Minutemen.