Minutemen bordering on chaos
Web Posted: 05/06/2005 12:00 AM CDT
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
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
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
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
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
"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
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
Mariana Bustamante with the American Civil Liberties
Union's immigrant rights project said the group is
mobilizing its resources in Texas to monitor Minuteman
Just as in Arizona, she said, "legal observers" would
camp out nearby and report any abuses or violations to
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
"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."