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Arizona - The Minutemen -

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U.S.A. - Arizona Minutemen

Broadcast: 07/06/2005

Reporter: Jill Colgan


COLGAN: The US/Mexico border is more than three thousand kilometres long, passing through harsh
desolate terrain. More than one million illegal immigrants try to cross this border each year.
Hundreds die in the attempt.

The US Border Patrol catches many of them, swooping on fugitives like these, but hundreds of
thousands evade capture and disappear into the United States.

CHRIS SIMCOX: Three years after September 11 our borders are still wide open. We have the criminal
element that rules our border, we have anarchy on our border, we have out of control illegal
immigration and the greatest threat to our national security.

COLGAN: The Minutemen say they'll do what their government won't - shut the border - but beyond
these hills lies a human wave of migrants, every bit as determined to find a better life in
America, prepared to do the jobs Americans don't want, for wages Americans won't take.

ISABEL GARCIA: People migrate because of sheer economic desperation. It is not something that they
take lightly. It is not something you take joy in seeing as we see people who die and suffer
crossing into this country.

COLGAN: Tombstone, Arizona, an apt headquarters for the Minutemen. Amid echoes of the Wild West,
they're making their own stand by the OK Corral, a most unlikely band of gunslingers.

MINUTEMEN LEADER: [Addressing new recruits] Just watch. That is your whole job. You don't speak to
them. You don't give them water. You don't give them anything at all. You just tell the border
patrol and if they get up and go by you there's no comment. You don't say anything to them. You let
them go. Border Patrol gets there you point out which way they went.

CHRIS SIMCOX: Most of the people who responded are senior citizens, responsible people their entire
lives, retired law enforcement officers, retired military veterans.

[Addressing new recruits]: They're all paying attention right now and they know that we're a force
to be reckoned with so.

COLGAN: The Minutemen project is the brainchild of two men - Chris Simcox, owner of a local paper
in Tombstone who came here after the terrorist attacks of September the 11th. That's when he began
this crusade to shut the border, founding his group Civil Homeland Defense.

CHRIS SIMCOX: [Addressing recruits] This is about a racist agenda in some way? No. This is about
national security and protecting our neighbours and our private property rights, stopping the
criminals and the drug dealers and the terrorists.

COLGAN: The other is Californian Jim Gilchrist, a decorated Vietnam veteran turned journalist,
turned tax accountant, turned political activist. It was his idea to launch the Minuteman project
as a recruitment drive, taking their name from a fiercely patriotic 18th century civilian militia
who fought the British during the American Revolution.

JIM GILCHRIST: After forty years of this onslaught we're all tired and we felt the only way to get
attention was to actually enforce the border laws ourself by coming down here, draw national

COLGAN: It started as a month long call to arms in April. They came from everywhere, a modern day
posse on deck chairs, taking up watch on a thirty-seven-kilometre stretch of border in the San
Pedro Valley, an area rife with trails used by so-called 'coyotes' - people smugglers who ply their
trade across the border. The Minutemen began stopping illegal crossings and soon got their national

TV NEWS REPORT: People from California, Oregon, Oklahoma, Arkansas, Texas, Massachusetts - as many
as nineteen different states and yes there were locals there too.

TV NEWS REPORT: On day two these volunteers found five illegal aliens hiding under a cement culvert
three miles from the border. They called the border patrol and began to shoot this video. The
border patrol arrived and took the five men away. It's exactly how the Minutemen Project is
intended to work.

COLGAN: But not all of it was good.

TV NEWS REPORT: As the Minutemen organise citizen border patrols, protestors gathered outside.

PROTESTOR: And you have to confront racism in order to stop it.

NEWS REPORTER: A concern that any encounter between the Minutemen and opponents could escalate into
a confrontation.

COLGAN: But the Minutemen confounded their critics. Even as President George W Bush labelled them
vigilantes, polls showed strong support among Americans for what was at least a symbolic effort to
secure the border.

CHRIS SIMCOX: Illegal aliens trash our countryside, destroy the environment. I mean literally acres
and acres of trash, clothing and backpacks, identifications, everything.

COLGAN: Chris Simcox describes this as a mission and himself as the leader Americans have long
needed. His demands are clear.

CHRIS SIMCOX: We want nothing short of US military presence on the border. Then I want a two-year
moratorium on any immigration into this country from Mexico. There are plenty of workers in this
country. They're standing on street corners everywhere, unemployed.

COLGAN: From the humble office of his newspaper, The Tumbleweed, he spoke of facing death threats
from both sides of the border and of his fears for the safety of his two children.

CHRIS SIMCOX: I have had their last names changed to protect their identify so that there's no
connection between us.

COLGAN: And you personally?

CHRIS SIMCOX: And I personally have to wear a bulletproof vest from the time I walk out my door in
the morning until I go home at night.

COLGAN: Soon after the Minutemen Project began he polished up his image. Opponents say he also hid
his more extreme, racist, anti immigration views to make his message palatable to middle America, a
claim he strongly denies.

ISABEL GARCIA: They're trying to behave in front of the cameras but if you dig a little deeper,
there is vast amounts of ignorance and a lot of racism behind many of these individuals.

COLGAN: Cross border volleyball, human rights groups counted with their own month long protest with
events like this, aimed at making light of the border tension. Long time immigration advocate
Isabel Garcia claims the Minutemen are just the latest version of racist groups who've tried to
militarise the border in the past.

ISABEL GARCIA: We're scared of vigilantes literally attacking people at gunpoint, which they have.
They want a stop to all immigration and they don't know that they're going to cut off their nose to
spite their face because they too depend on the undocumented labour force.

COLGAN: But the Minutemen are not so readily pigeonholed.

ED WHITBRED: I know there's been a lot of, you know, very left wing press that we're all a bunch of
redneck gun toting idiots who are out here, we're going to shoot people - that's not happening.
Hasn't happened and it's not going to happen.

COLGAN: Retired aluminium industry executive Ed Whitbred says people are angry their Government is
spending billions of dollars on a war in Iraq but won't secure it's own southern border.

ED WHITBRED: The main impetus is terrorism in the fact that it is so easy for anybody to walk
across this border with anything that they can carry.

CHARLES GRIFFIN: This is an example of a trail the illegals will use. This is where an agent will
cut for sign of course. Cutting for sign means the agent is looking for something out of the

COLGAN: The US border is under assault and the statistics are staggering.

CHARLES GRIFFIN: As far as arrests, Tucson sector agents arrested four hundred and ninety one
thousand, seven hundred and seventy one people last year. This year thus far, we've arrest more
than seventeen thousand illegal aliens with criminal histories so we're on pace to pretty much
double last year's numbers.

COLGAN: But agent Charles Griffin says they don't need the Minutemen.

CHARLES GRIFFIN: Well it's not a project that's desired. These people are untrained civilians
trying to perform law enforcement functions potentially, putting themselves in a situation that
could be violent.

COLGAN: Every day the detention centres along this border fill with illegal aliens. Most are
Mexican but they come from all over Latin America. It's become a high tech game of cat and mouse
but for all the latest technology, the surge of immigrants has not been slowed. Large groups have
been caught in the middle of the desert, dozens at a time. Many are found dehydrated and lost -
abandoned by their coyotes.

CHARLES GRIFFIN: You can't physically carry enough water to make it through the desert in a safe
manner and so coyotes will tell them that the terrain's only six to eight hours to get to a place
where they're going to get picked up or to their destination, when reality can be four or five six
days worth of walking.

COLGAN: They face violence at the hands of the smugglers. Some will be kidnapped and held hostage
until their families send money or be killed.

CHARLES GRIFFIN: There's rapes, there's murders, there's physical assaults.

COLGAN: Each year around three hundred people die, pushed by the heightened border security to try
ever more desperate paths. In this night surveillance video released just days ago, four Mexican
men tried a risky crossing over a dam in Texas. Border patrol agents were waiting on the other side
but as they reached for help the men slipped - one by one falling to their deaths.

So commonplace are the captures, we spot one on the side of the road in broad daylight and what do
they do when they catch them? Let them go. Within hours of being caught they'll be processed and if
there are no outstanding warrants, they'll be dropped off at the border like this where many simply
wait for another chance to cross. The sheer numbers make it impossible for the system to do
anything more.

The truth is there are drug runners and other criminals crossing this border. There may be
terrorists too but the vast majority are impoverished Mexicans looking for work, drawn by employers
in the US only too willing to hire cheap labour. More than ten million illegal immigrants live and
work in the US today. And this is why they come. Mexican President Vicente Fox has failed to
provide the economic miracle he promised his people. Poverty is widespread and the gap between rich
and poor is a chasm.

This is Altar, a small town about one hundred kilometres from the border with the United States.
It's come to serve one main purpose - it's become a staging point for the tens of thousands of
Mexicans and other Hispanics preparing to make the illegal border crossing into the US.

The town square is full of men who've come from around the country to meet their coyotes, making a
last phone call home before they go. Shops sell the goods they'll need - backpacks, shoes and the
clothes to help them blend in on the other side. Vans openly line the street, advertising trips to
the border and, as if on cue, they pull out in convoy.

FATHER RENE CASTANEDA CASTRO: The number is always growing, 1500 to 1800 migrants arrive daily -
men, women and children. When I arrived here in 1999, 300 people were arriving daily. We've had a
considerable increase. It's a reflection, a thermometer of the situation - that really exists in
our country.

COLGAN: Father Rene Castaneda Castro is a Catholic Priest who runs a migrant shelter in Altar.
Outside, he has crosses marking the numbers of desert deaths in each US State and a wall
memorialising the dead.

FATHER RENE CASTANEDA CASTRO: Many have said to me, Father, despite the risks I cannot stay. I
prefer to risk my life because at home my children and wife are waiting for me in hope that I bring
them some money, simply to buy food, clothing and protection for the family.

COLGAN: The dark truth is illegal migration works to the advantage of both countries. Without the
cheap labour, construction, agriculture and service businesses in the US would collapse. For the
Mexican Government these people are its most lucrative export, sending back millions of dollars in
earnings to their families and fuelling a struggling economy.

So your priority is not to police the border?

MIGUEL ESCOBAR: No and let me tell you that according to the Mexican Constitution, the Mexican
Constitution guarantees the freedom of transit within the boundaries of Mexico so it would be
unconstitutional to try to detain them.

COLGAN: But doesn't that make life very difficult for your ally and neighbour, the United States?

MIGUEL ESCOBAR: Well what can I tell you? There is reality of migration all over the world and
Mexico and the United States do not escape from this fact of life.

COLGAN: Tonight at the shelter a young family is preparing to make their first crossing.
Guatemalans, Armando Carrillo Domingo is twenty-three, his wife Veronica is twenty. Their son
Harold is two. Despite the risks they're determined to take their chances.

ARMANDO CARRILLO DOMINGO: We asked God to please let nothing bad happen to us, and thanks be to
God, so far nothing bad has happened.

COLGAN: The family has gone heavily into debt to pay their coyote, nearly three and a half thousand
US dollars.

ARMANDO CARRILLO DOMINGO: The first thing we're going to do is work hard to pay off those debts,
then we'll begin to fight for ourselves as well.

COLGAN: This is the face of a coyote. For twenty years, Sergio Icedo Medrano smuggled people
through the desert to pay for a rampant drug habit.

SERGIO ICEDO MEDRANO: I'd been caught by the Border Patrol forty nine times. I'd been apprehended,
but they never knew my name - I always gave them a different name.

COLGAN: His habit eventually ruined him and he checked into a drug rehabilitation centre. The human
rights group, No More Deaths, discovered him at the centre and recruited him to help migrants
trying to cross. The group sets up camps near the border, taking food and water to those in the
desert in a bid to stop the fatalities.

SERGIO ICEDO MEDRANO: I have helped 3,850 migrants this year. I have given them 16,000 gallons of
water. I've taken many people to the border, who I've found in the desert.

COLGAN: Now, with a newfound belief in God and the skills he once used to exploit migrants, Sergio
has become a not-for-profit coyote. And there in the desert we find a group of young men waiting
for their chance to bolt to freedom.

YOUNG MEXICAN MAN: We're hidden, yes - and protected from the sun. We'll be continuing soon, once
the sun goes down.

ANOTHER YOUNG MEXICAN MAN: I'm going to make a new life and help my family so that they'll no
longer live the way we have been living.

COLGAN: Among them, one of the men we filmed being caught just days ago. As determined as the
Minutemen are on the other side to stop them, there are Mexicans and Americans here just as
determined to help the migrants make it.

SERGIO ICEDO MEDRANO: We're one and a half kilometres away... I don't know why the Minutemen have to
come here and step on our people, our race. All the people who go to the United States, go there to
work - to search for a better life. A United States without Mexicans wouldn't work.

COLGAN: They have an ally in the highest of offices - President Bush for one knows the US needs the
Mexican immigrants.

PRESIDENT GEORGE W BUSH: [State of the Union Address] We should not be content with laws that
punish hard working people who want only to provide for their families and deny businesses willing
workers and invite chaos at our border. It is time for an immigration policy that permits temporary
guest workers to fill jobs Americans will not take.

COLGAN: It would drastically thin down the number of illegal border crossings and let border
control focus on criminals and would be terrorists but the President is facing strong opposition
from hardliners in his own Republican Party.

CHRIS SIMCOX: [To Minutemen Group] I think we need to stand and say the pledge of allegiance.

COLGAN: So intense is the growing anti immigration sentiment in this country, Republicans are
nervous at being seen as soft on illegal immigration. Getting an immigration overhaul through
Congress may prove impossible and in the meantime nothing will change.

CHRIS SIMCOX: [To Minutemen Group] This could not have been done without all of you. We did this
together, we the people.

COLGAN: The Minutemen succeeded beyond expectations, there were no incidents of violence and
they've required fifteen thousand more volunteers for future projects, expanding the scheme beyond
Arizona. But even if it were feasible to station them along the entire border, they could not stop
the immigrants.

Every week the group Humane Borders has a vigil for the migrants found dead in the desert. Each
cross bears one name. It shows that whatever the risks, they will come - as long as there's poverty
in Mexico, jobs in the US and inaction by both governments.