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February 24, 2005

What if?

by Chris Feeney

What if the Minutemen returned? The infamous nickname is well known to Americans because of the revolutionary war militiamen that were called into service in just a minute to help secure our nationís independence. The old militias have been replaced by the armed forcesí official reserves. While many experts claim the current conflict in Iraq is taxing this manpower, the return of the Minutemen actually is occurring on a different front.

According to published reports, more than 500 volunteers have signed up for the Minutemen Project, an effort to help the taxed workforce of the United States Border Patrol prevent illegal immigration into the United States. While the Minutemen of old originated in Massachusetts, todayís Minutemen are forming in Arizona, where, according to CNN, more than half of the 1.1 million illegal immigrants turned back in 2004, were caught trying to cross the 370-mile stretch of border shared by the state and Mexico.

So actually the Minutemen are more like a cross between a Neighborhood Watch and a law enforcement auxiliary than the old time military force.

If mobilized, the new-era militia border patrol would represent a nearly 25-percent increase in manpower for the Border Patrol, which according to published reports, has already expanded its officer numbers to 2,100. The more than 2,000 mile border with Mexico already is manned by more than 10,000 border patrol personnel.

But if they are mobilized, it will be strictly voluntary, as government officials donít seem to want to have anything to do with the group.

Opponents of the new Minutemen are comparing the organization to vigilantes and are warning of violence and other problems that could arise with untrained, armed individuals wandering in the remote border territory.

Proponents claim that while some volunteers do feel the need to arm themselves for personal safety, they are encouraging the Minutemen simply to observe illegal activity and report border crossings to the proper authorities.

Minutemen backers also point out the growing amount of military intelligence warning the next wave of terrorist attacks in the U.S. could originate with illegal border crossings.

Still, organizers realize what an public-image nightmare could be created by a violent confrontation between border migrants and someone claiming to represent the Minutemen. Thatís why the group has adopted strict policies, prohibiting contact with border crossers except to offer medical aid, water or other necessary assistance. They insist the Minutemen will simply be aiding Border Patrol officers by observing crossings and reporting them to officials.

While the government stops short of officially denouncing the group and other similar volunteer efforts, it is obvious that there is concern about the possibility of violence between the armed sentries and those trying to cross the border.

No one likes to have someone tell them how to do their job, so itís easy to understand why government officials might not be pleased with the Minutemen. But as long as they avoid confrontations and simply act as extra sets of eyes, what law enforcement agency would turn that down?

Personally, Iíve always been a proponent of neighborhood watches and citizens lending a hand to law enforcement. Are armed 24-hour desert patrols, for illegal immigrants, stretching this a bit far? Probably, but if we lived in Arizona, Iím sure there would be plenty of us ready to answer the call in a minute.


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