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Protesters held hands in prayer during a mile-long march of immigrants yesterday in New York City. They were protesting tough new immigration bills that are before Congress.
Protesters held hands in prayer during a mile-long march of immigrants yesterday in New York City. They were protesting tough new immigration bills that are before Congress. (Daniel Barry/ Getty Images)

Minuteman volunteer groups patrol the US borders for illegals

Marchers in NYC protest new rules

THREE POINTS, Ariz. -- A year after attracting attention with a monthlong patrol on the Arizona border, a civilian watch group has returned for another extended effort aimed at helping authorities to find illegal immigrants.

Volunteers with the Minuteman Civil Defense Corps, an outgrowth of last year's Minuteman Project, kicked off their latest campaign yesterday along the Mexican and Canadian borders.

Group leaders say that while some of the logistical details are different, their goal of encouraging immigration reform is the same. ''We want border security first," said Chris Simcox, the national leader of the Minuteman Civil Defense Corps, based in Phoenix.

The operation is occurring at a time when illegal immigration is at the center of a growing national debate because of efforts in Congress to revamp immigration laws.

The group says it has 1,000 volunteers in Arizona alone to mount round-the-clock shifts for the next 30 days in an area used heavily by illegal immigrants and smugglers.

At a rally kicking off the effort at an Arizona ranch yesterday, politicians and activists opposing illegal immigration gave speeches calling for more border control.

About 200 people attended the event. Don Goldwater, a Republican candidate for Arizona governor and nephew of the late senator Barry Goldwater, said he had a message for President Bush.

''Build us that wall now," Goldwater said, referring to a measure that would add a 700-mile barrier along the border.

He promised that if elected, he would put illegal immigrants in a tent city on the border and use their labor to build the wall.

Minuteman chapters also began monthlong patrols yesterday in border areas in Texas, New Mexico, California, and Washington.

Weeklong patrols are planned in New Hampshire, New York, and Vermont. Minuteman groups have conducted small operations in Arizona and several other border areas in recent months; they also staged monthlong patrols in October, including one in the same area as the group's debut mission last April in southern Arizona.

Group members spent the month watching a small stretch of border in Arizona and reporting any illegal immigrants to the Border Patrol. The Minutemen did not detain anyone.

The initial patrol created a number of disagreements, with civil rights groups and the Border Patrol saying they feared the potential for violence that had been created by the presence of armed civilians on the border.

Instead, the group's general discipline and nonviolent patrol activity earned it credibility in some quarters and attracted both public and some political support.

Still, their efforts are not welcomed by all.

''We're not necessarily opposed to the actions of the Minutemen to express themselves and to engage in what they call political protest," said Alessandra Soler Meetze, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union-Arizona.

''It's where they have the potential of taking actions and enforcing immigration laws or attempting to enforce immigration laws" that seems to be troubling, Meetze said.

In another development, in New York yesterday, thousands of immigrants and immigrant rights supporters formed a line of more than a mile as they marched across the Brooklyn Bridge.

The protesters waved flags from more than a dozen countries as they demonstrated against possible immigration changes in Congress.

The marchers, most of them from Latin American countries, gathered in downtown Brooklyn on a warm spring day for the walk across the East River. The march ended outside the federal office building in lower Manhattan, where more than 10,000 people turned Foley Square into a sea of colorful banners and apparel.

The marchers mustered in a neighborhood settled by the Dutch, crossed a bridge designed by a German, and finished at the edge of Chinatown in an area that once held Irish slums depicted in the 2002 film ''Gangs of New York."

On the way, they passed the Statue of Liberty and immigrant vendors from around the world.

''We came to say that we're here," said George Criollo, who arrived in New York a decade ago from Cuenca, Ecuador. ''We have to speak, legal or illegal. We have to speak about this issue."

Criollo, who said his family was in the United States illegally, feared that some of the legislation pending in Congress could lead to his deportation or jailing.

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