April 5, 2005
NACO - The first night of full scale patrols appears to have passed without incident in the area where citizens have volunteered to watch for illegal immigrants and smugglers trying to sneak into the country, authorities said Tuesday.
Volunteers for the Minuteman Project had a limited presence on the border during the weekend but spent Monday expanding their line southeast of this border community, gathering in groups of three or four spaced out about every quarter mile.
The area has remained largely quiet, although law enforcement officials have expressed fear that the exercise could lead to vigilante violence or an accidental confrontation between armed volunteers and authorities.
It's been "very good, very quiet, which is a good thing for us," said Alma Barth, a spokeswoman for the sheriff's department in Cochise County, where the volunteers are focusing their efforts.
U.S. Border Patrol officials also said the volunteers have been peaceful, though they have continued to unwittingly trip sensors that alert the agency to possible intruders, forcing agents to respond to false alarms.
The volunteers, many of whom were recruited over the Internet and some of whom are armed, plan to watch the border in shifts 24 hours a day throughout April and report any illegal activity to federal agents.
Minuteman Project spokesman Mike McGarry said about 480 volunteers are in southern Arizona to watch the border. There was no way to verify the count independently since authorities aren't keeping track of the numbers.
The idea, according to project organizers, is partly to draw attention to problems on the Arizona-Mexico border, considered the most vulnerable stretch of the 2,000-mile southern border. Of the 1.1 million illegal immigrants caught by the Border Patrol last year, 51 percent crossed into the country at Arizona.
The Border Patrol recorded 145 apprehensions in the Naco area on Monday, said agency spokeswoman Andrea Zortman, but the agency won't say whether any of those were related to the volunteers' activities.
She said the agency doesn't release the identities of citizens who report sightings of illegal immigrants, in part because it might discourage people from making reports.