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Minuteman planning to be in south Texas this fall, but split internally

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  • Greg Cannon
    http://www.mysanantonio.com/news/metro/stories/MYSA050605.1A.minuteman_texas.2478721ef.html Minutemen bordering on chaos Web Posted: 05/06/2005 12:00 AM CDT
    Message 1 of 1 , May 6, 2005
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      http://www.mysanantonio.com/news/metro/stories/MYSA050605.1A.minuteman_texas.2478721ef.html

      Minutemen bordering on chaos

      Web Posted: 05/06/2005 12:00 AM CDT

      Hern�n Rozemberg
      Express-News Immigration Writer

      Hundreds, possibly thousands, of activists could be
      watching the banks of the Rio Grande this fall if a
      controversial movement meant to halt illegal
      immigration successfully expands to South Texas.

      Backers of the Minuteman Project, an unprecedented
      civilian border-watch group that attracted hundreds of
      volunteers from across the country to Arizona last
      month, claim the success of that first mission will
      ensure its eventual omnipresence along the entire
      U.S.-Mexico line.

      But the promised expansion is being accompanied by
      built-up internal strife.

      The movement's two top leaders are working separately
      with splinter groups, and not all of the groups
      necessarily embrace the strict controls on volunteers
      established by Minuteman organizers.

      The U.S. Border Patrol and community leaders in South
      Texas say they don't want the help, while civil rights
      groups pledged to continue monitoring the activities
      for possible legal violations.

      There's little doubt the Minuteman Project in Arizona
      has made its mark. The effort garnered national and
      international headlines and adherents are poised to
      spread similar missions in other border areas.

      A group in California, Friends of the Border Patrol,
      is organizing a monthlong "border watch" in San Diego
      in August.

      It remains to be seen if future projects will be as
      effective as the first. Insiders say the group's two
      attention-grabbing leaders have parted ways.

      Jim Gilchrist, a retired accountant and former Marine
      from California, originated the idea and handled
      recruiting through his Web site. He then tapped Chris
      Simcox, who already had been leading small civilian
      border patrol groups in Arizona for two years.

      But differences between them grew throughout the
      month. It's not clear whether future Minuteman efforts
      will be led by Gilchrist or Simcox or if they will
      organize or support simultaneous but separate efforts.

      "There are no ties," Gilchrist said this week. "If we
      did anything else together, it would be as allies, not
      partners. I support his goals, but I'm weary of his
      management capabilities."

      Numerous Arizona participants, including organizers,
      said Simcox's dictatorial ways � he became known as
      "The Little Prince" and "The Little Hitler" � angered
      countless volunteers, prompting many to quit.

      "He just pissed everybody off," said Jim Chase, who
      held several leadership positions during the mission,
      including security director. "It was ridiculous, going
      behind everyone's back. I'm never working with him
      again."

      Simcox said he was unaware of any criticism and
      dismissed the notion that the group was falling apart.
      He and Gilchrist still maintain frequent contact and
      consult with each other on decisions, he said.

      They decided to let Simcox handle all future
      border-watch efforts while Gilchrist would start a
      side project investigating U.S. employers who
      willingly hire undocumented workers, Simcox said.

      Confusion over who's in charge has left nascent
      Minuteman offshoots in other border states tapping
      both for help.

      The head-scratching already is visible in South Texas.

      Wanda Schultz, a volunteer with Houston-based
      Americans For Zero Immigration, was told by Simcox's
      office to gear up for a monthlong mission in
      Brownsville starting Oct. 1. Simcox said he'll be
      dispatching an organizer to Houston next week.

      But others who also volunteered in Arizona have
      started planning "Minutemen Texas." Its steering
      committee hasn't yet picked specific dates and places,
      but is aiming for October between Brownsville and
      Laredo, said Sandra Beene of Dallas.

      Just as in Arizona, volunteers won't make contact with
      crossers, but simply watch and report sightings to the
      Border Patrol, she said. While details remain to be
      worked out, committee members already have reached one
      firm decision.

      "We're completely separate from Chris Simcox and we
      intend to keep it that way," Beene said.

      The Houston group's founder, John Hern�ndez, said his
      volunteers would follow the same rules that prevailed
      in Arizona, but he wouldn't rule out the possibility
      of contact between them and crossers.

      "I don't see myself letting them run all over me," he
      said. "If they initiate something, you have to take
      action. You can't let them hit you in the head or
      bad-mouth you."

      Kerry Morales, who runs an 80-acre ranch in
      Hebbronville, said arranging the project in Texas will
      be tricky. Unlike Arizona, where much of the land
      along the border is public, the Texas boundary is
      mostly held by private landowners.

      Some ranchers already have offered their properties
      and the group hopes others will also jump on board,
      Morales said. So there could be several "roving"
      groups, as opposed to one fixed stretch of border.

      While many Arizonans readily embraced the Minuteman
      cause, more resistance is expected in Texas.

      "We all know the Rio Grande Valley is
      illegal-friendly," Morales said. "A lot of people make
      money from smuggling illegals across the border, and
      they wouldn't want us taking their paychecks away."

      It wouldn't be just smugglers that would pull the
      welcome mat in South Texas.

      The Border Patrol remains steadfast in its disapproval
      of civilian border patrols. And community leaders said
      they have no need and no desire for outsiders who are
      clueless about long-standing Texas border culture.

      "We don't need 'em," Laredo Mayor Betty Flores said.
      "They want to help? Great. Send us a check."

      Assuming volunteers do eventually set up camp in South
      Texas, immigrant advocacy groups are gearing up for a
      counter-campaign.

      Mariana Bustamante with the American Civil Liberties
      Union's immigrant rights project said the group is
      mobilizing its resources in Texas to monitor Minuteman
      activities.

      Just as in Arizona, she said, "legal observers" would
      camp out nearby and report any abuses or violations to
      law enforcement.

      Mexican law enforcement agencies also are keeping tabs
      and will continue efforts to dissuade migrants from
      crossing in Minuteman-patrolled areas.

      Yet despite strong opposition and likely overlapping
      effort among several groups, volunteers said the
      concept already has proven it can work and needs to be
      replicated.

      "I think it's great if people want to start their own
      groups," Morales said. "I just hope they don't do
      something stupid � that'd make all of us look bad."
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