April 4, 2005
Volunteers in an effort to patrol the Mexican border reported their first sighting of suspected illegal immigrants, resulting in 18 arrests, authorities said Sunday.
Participants in the Minuteman Project saw the migrants Saturday near Naco as the volunteers were surveying the border to familiarize themselves with the area. When agents arrived, they apprehended 18 people, Border Patrol spokesman Andy Adame said.
‘‘You observe them, report them and get out of the way,’’ said Mike McGarry, a spokesman for the project, which begins today and is to continue for a month.
The volunteers reported another illegal immigrant after he wandered onto the campus of a Bible college near the community of Palominas, where about 100 Minuteman participants were staying.
The man walked in and said he needed food and water. Volunteers helped him and notified federal agents, who picked him up, McGarry said.
Enrique Enriquez, a member of Grupo Beta, a Mexican agency dedicated to protecting migrants, intercepts people heading north and warns them about the Minuteman Project. He said more than 400 people a day attempt to cross near Douglas. But news of the Minutemen’s arrival, combined with media hype in Mexico, has cut the traffic to a few dozen a day.
Some smugglers have refused to take clients to the border area until the activists leave. Others are directing them elsewhere, as far east as El Paso, Texas.
Minuteman volunteers planned to start regular patrols today, fanning out across 23 miles of the San Pedro Valley to watch the border and report any illegal activity to federal agents. It’s an exercise some law enforcement authorities and others fear could lead to vigilante violence.
McGarry said about 200 people would be in place for today’s patrols, although human rights activists and some authorities have questioned whether the project will attract as many volunteers as organizers expect.
Law enforcement officials said the volunteers were being peaceful.
‘‘Everything seems to be going well,’’ said Carol Capas, a spokeswoman for the Cochise County Sheriff’s Office.
The Arizona-Mexico border is 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 the Arizona border.