The Minuteman organization, a private group that advocates stricter immigration controls, is planning a month-long operation along the border with Mexico starting Saturday. The group is also keeping a close eye on the U.S Senate's current debate over immigration reform.
Over the past week media attention has focused on Hispanic demonstrations against proposed restrictions on illegal immigration and measures that would tighten enforcement of existing immigration laws. The U.S. Senate is now debating these proposals as well as a proposed guest worker program favored by President Bush that would provide a path to citizenship for the estimated 11 million undocumented foreign workers who are currently in the United States.
But organizations that favor stricter enforcement of immigration laws are also raising their voices. The Minutemen, who staged an operation on a small stretch of the Mexican border with Arizona last year, are planning to expand that operation this year, according to spokesman Al Garza, who spoke to VOA by phone from his home in Arizona.
"We are going to try to block off the borders between California and extend it all the way to Texas and it is going to be a 30-day operation," said Mr. Garza.
Garza says there are 7,000 volunteers ready to participate in the effort and that they will take up positions at various points along the border. As they have done in the past, he says, the Minutemen will only observe and report illegal activity to the U.S. Border Patrol.
Al Garza is a Mexican-American, but he says he disagrees with Hispanic leaders who are advocating legalization of undocumented workers and who oppose efforts to better control the border.
"The Mexican-Americans that I know and any Hispanic American in their right mind is going to side our way," he explained. "Most of them that I have spoken to say the same thing, because they are truly Americans. Although they do the Spanish or Mexican culture, they eat their rice, beans, tortillas, et cetera, but at the same time they know where their loyalty belongs and it is to this country."
The Minuteman organizer says he and many fellow Mexican Americans were dismayed by images of young people in Los Angeles and other cities carrying Mexican flags and demanding legalized status for people who violated U.S. immigration laws to enter the country. Garza says U.S. Senators should take a hard look at what has happened.
"We are the tax-paying citizens, we are the Americans and when our flags go down and the Mexican flag goes up that should be the red light for them," he added. "They should say, 'Hey, wait a minute, these people are not protesting, they are invading our country.' That is exactly what they have done."
Public opinion polls show Hispanic Americans, much like Americans in general, are split over the immigration issue. While most Hispanics express sympathy for the immigrants and their struggle to make a better life for themselves and their families, many also see the need to better protect the border and to establish a more orderly way for migrant workers to enter the country.