'Thank you for being here'
Volunteers say Border Patrol appreciates help
El Paso Times
When it comes to the Minutemen, Border Patrol officials are careful not to encourage the civilian patrollers, saying the job is better left to trained professionals.
But Border Patrol agents on the ground are much friendlier, Minutemen volunteers said.
"The rank-and-file have been supportive. They talk to us. They say, 'Thank you for being here,'" said Frank George, the spokesman for the Texas Minutemen, a group operating from Fabens to Fort Hancock this month.
Patrollers from other similar groups who scan the desert for undocumented immigrants to report to the Border Patrol say agents have gone as far as giving them tips on patrolling, and have even
asked for their help to close off culverts and other routes used by smugglers.
Border Patrol officials said agents are only monitoring the patrollers.
"We are not aware of relationships (between agents and patrollers) struck in this sector," Doug Mosier, the Border Patrol spokesman in El Paso, said. "We do not have an adversarial relationship with the Minutemen, but we are obligated to monitor their activities and ensure that our operations are not interrupted and civil rights are not violated in any way."
Individual border agents are not allowed to give their personal opinions to the media, but several agents, speaking on condition of anonymity, confirmed widespread support for the Minutemen. [ by who, the population in general...or Homeland Security people...do a poll ]
Officials at the National Border Patrol Council,
the agents' union, said it's understandable the Minutemen have fans in the field.
"They welcome the support, clearly," T.J. Bonner, the union's president, said. "I certainly appreciate the frustration of the Minutemen. I personally recall catching the same group of people four times in one shift."
Bonner worked as an agent in San Diego.
Not only have the numbers of apprehensions of migrants shot up in the past few years, but statistics suggest migrants must now try to cross several times before succeeding.
Last year, more than half the undocumented immigrants caught in the El Paso sector were repeat crossers. If they are from Mexico and have a clean criminal background, they get turned back to Juárez within hours. There, they regroup with their smuggler, who only charges them money if the crossing is successful.
Bonner said agents were given general instructions by the agency brass to call a supervisor any time an immigrant is turned over to them
by a Minutemen volunteer. The supervisor would then interview the migrants "to make sure there are no allegations of abuse," Bonner said.
Representatives from Minutemen groups have said they would not detain migrants, just spot them and call the Border Patrol.
The Minutemen are extra pairs of eyes, and for some Border Patrol agents, they are also extra pairs of hands.
Ray Ybarra, who organizes teams of observers for the American Civil Liberties Union to follow the Minutemen around, said patrollers helped agents during the original Minuteman Project in Arizona in April.
"Agents would tell the Minutemen, 'Watch this guy (immigrant), while I go after that guy (another immigrant),'" he said. "It's like they are deputizing hate groups."
In Sunland Park this month, Clifford Alford, the founder of New Mexico Border Watch, a local group that's been patrolling on a regular basis, said agents have put him to work.
"I guess they trust me and they know
I can get the work done," the imposing 6-foot-4, ex-Army Green Beret said.
Alford said he set up a system of weekly telephone codes so that agents can call him without having to say they are with the Border Patrol. Once, they told Alford of an area where smugglers' vehicles kept coming through. Alford and his volunteers blocked the passage with a barricade made of tree branches.
Last Sunday, Alford spent about $200 of his own money on wire and T-posts to fix a gaping hole in the border fence on Anapra Road.
"I asked the agents' permission and they said, 'Go ahead, otherwise, it'll never get done,'" he said.
Then, he went to a culvert, also used by smugglers, and closed the entrance with a net of barbed wire.
Louie Gilot may be reached at lgilot@...; 546-6131.