Posted: 10/9/2005 6:03:45 PM EDT
Watching the Watchers
Minuteman Civil Defense Corps spurs Contra Minutemen Coalition's response
Brandi Dean Caller-Times
October 9, 2005
Every night for the past week, Dave Summers has set up a lawn chair in the South Texas bush and sat for hours on end, listening.
Summers is from Mesquite, but he's been in and around Falfurrias since July, setting satellite coordinates and tracking signs of movement - in particular, human movement - in preparation for this month's kickoff of the Minuteman Civil Defense Corps' Texas vigil, which began Oct. 1. Now, he's using that information to determine where he's most likely to cross the path of illegal immigrants. That's where he and his fellow minutemen spend their nights waiting for the sound of human footsteps.
Depending on whom you talk to, the minutemen are either good citizens doing what needs to be done to protect United States borders, as Summers tells it, or racists looking for someone to oppress, as Mike Chavez, organizer of the Coastal Bend's branch of the Contra Minutemen Coalition believes.
Mike Vickers, sector chief of the minuteman group and owner of the ranch where they're currently based, says racists are carefully screened out during an interview process, and many of those involved said they conducted their own screening of the group for racism before joining it.
But Chavez said not all racists are eliminated from the group and pointed to Bill Parmley'sresignation from his former post of president of the Texas Minuteman branch as proof. Parmley could not be reached for comment, but according to an Associated Press article, he claimed in his resignation e-mail that the group had racist tendencies.
The Contra Minutemen met for the first time Saturday in Falfurrias to announce their reasons for opposing the minutemen. About a half-dozen Contra Minutemen gathered outside Vickers' ranch to show their disapproval of the minutemen. A state trooper dispersed the group without conflict.
Summers said the routine doesn't involve an actual patrol, but six or eight or 12 hours of sitting, listening and watching. He said the routine involves four steps: listen, identify sounds heard, report it if it's someone who's not supposed to be there - which is anyone, since the minutemen are on private ranches and no one else has permission to be there - and then do nothing. The minutemen aren't supposed to have any contact with the people they observe, other than to offer them water or help if it seems necessary, according to the group's standard operating procedure.
"We observe, we report," Vickers said. "That's about it."
Federal neglect alleged
It might not sound like much, but the minutemen say it has to be done because the government isn't doing it. According to the U.S. Border Patrol, 410,767 illegal immigrants were apprehended on the Texas/Mexico border in the past year, and Summers worries about the terrorists, drugs and health problems that might be crossing with those the Border Patrol missed.
"It seems like we're more concerned about the border between Syria and Iraq than we are about the United States," he said. "If I were not to pay my income tax, they would take steps to see that I anted up. Why can't our federal government protect our borders?"
As a Falfurrias rancher who rescues about a dozen illegal immigrants from heat stroke and dehydration every year and has seen the bodies of those who weren't rescued near his property, Vickers has personal reasons as to why he would like to put an end to illegal immigration.
The U.S. Border Patrol says 154 illegal immigrants have died during their journey from Mexico to Texas in the past 12 months, and the Border Patrol has rescued another 1,008. About 30 have died in Brooks, Jim Hogg, Kenedy, Kleberg and Webb counties, said Nueces County Medical Examiner Ray Fernandez.
Vickers attributes the deaths and rescues to immigrants who paid coyotes to help them over the border but were abandoned before they reached safety.
"It's heartbreaking," Vickers said. "I live this every day. There's always been traffic, but I've seen it grow from a friendly, non-violent segment who were just looking for a job, to a huge group of people from all over the world that are being transported by coyotes who are violent and have no regard for human rights and private property."
Chavez doesn't believe the minutemen's motives are so altruistic, and the fact that the minutemen waive the registration fee for members if they have a concealed handgun license only increases his fears.
"It's not against border invasion," Chavez said of the minutemen. "It's not about that. It's about they have trouble with Latin immigration."
Summers said the fee is waived because it pays for the same sort of background check the State of Texas does when someone applies for a concealed handgun license. Everyone applying to become a minuteman is required to get a background check, unless they have a concealed handgun license.
Whatever their reasons, more than 500 minutemen volunteers are watching the Texas border this month, and they say they'll stay there until they think the government has picked up the slack. In South Texas, they are patrolling private ranches in Brooks, Hidalgo, Jim Hogg and Starr counties. The group hopes to expand its patrol in the Coastal Bend.
The minutemen wouldn't say how many reports they'd made to the Border Patrol, and Border Patrol agents would not comment specifically on the minutemen. But Vickers said he believed the minutemen were making some headway.
"The first couple of days were just crazy," he said. "We had the Border Patrol just running their legs off."
Ratio of 10 to 1
If the government doesn't step up, the minutemen hope to have 10 minutemen volunteers for every Border Patrol agent currently deployed. As Pat Byrne, a member from Kerrville, explained it, they're only asking the government to enforce its own laws.
"I don't care who you are, I'd just like you to sign the book," Byrne said. "Kind of like my great-grandpa did six or seven generations back.
"When they got off the boat, they signed the book, declared their intentions, were medically vetted and then a man said 'Here's a great opportunity for you and your family down this gangplank.' I don't think those are unreasonable questions."
Yeah... that's why they're camped out at the established entry points along our southern border protesting the entry of latinos who have sucessfully entered through legal means.
Yeah... but grandpa came here legally.
Just a little difference.
Talk about spin, they waive the fee because the ones with the license have already had a background check