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Immigration

Minuteman Project Rallies Against Illegal Immigration

Jeffrey Zahka, Reporting from Washington D.C., May 25, 2006

An American flag marks an opening in a barbed wire fence at the U.S.-Mexico border west of Douglas, Arizona. The flag was posted by a volunteer from the Minuteman Project. (Photo: Nicholas Roberts / AFP-Getty Images)

This week Mexican President Vicente Fox is in the U.S. on a four-day trip — visiting Utah, Washington state and California — to assert the viewpoint that strong economic ties between the two countries will ultimately benefit both. Fox is also attempting to diffuse the very bitter illegal immigration debate. During his visit to Utah, several dozen protesters gathered outside the state Capitol, waving American flags and carrying signs attacking proposals to offer illegal immigrants amnesty. The Minuteman Project, which opposes illegal immigration, organized the demonstration.

On May 12, a larger rally was held by the Minuteman Project near the U.S. Capitol building in Washington, D.C. where they heard cries of, "Fascists, go away! Immigrants are here to stay!" directed at them from pro-immigration advocates. The Minuteman Project is a controversial far-right political organization whose inflammatory rhetoric and growing support have been a cause for concern among politicians of both Republican and Democrat parties. During the demonstration, attended by approximately 100 Minutemen and their supporters, the organization's leadership — including its founder, Jim Gilchrist — set forth their agenda: the protection of American jobs and the security of America's borders through the elimination of all immigration reform initiatives.

"The U.S. government is about to shove an amnesty for 30 million illegal aliens down the throats of 300 million Americans," said Gilchrist. "The U.S. Senate hears your cry, and they don't care!" Gilchrist's words were greeted with applause from those surrounding him, while loud dissenting chants were heard from anti-Minuteman demonstrators 25 yards away. He continued, "Minutemen and women, stand your ground! If it is a war our political governors want, then we will fight them under the first amendment rule of law, and we will not quit!"

The Minuteman Project, whose volunteer border patrols have infuriated immigration supporters on both sides of the U.S.-Mexico border, had come to Washington D.C. on the last stop of a 10-day, 12-city tour which began in Los Angeles, CA, on May 3. The afternoon demonstration, under heavy police protection, was clearly designed to contradict the accusations of racism and hate-mongering that had been levied against the group in recent months.

Ted Hayes, leader of the California-based Crispus Attucks Brigade, spoke for African-Americans in his state who have been disenfranchised by the arrival of undocumented illegal workers: "Illegal immigration is the greatest threat to black people since slavery," he said. Another speaker, a Vietnam veteran who was wounded in action, later spoke of the loss of his carpentry business and subsequent eviction from his home due to the influx of undocumented workers into California.

Among the crowd of Minutemen supporters stood Nancy, an African-American government worker who, while holding a sign that read "Immigration is not a race card issue," argued that illegal immigrants who arrive in the United States are not protected by American law and are thus all the more vulnerable to abuse and exploitation. Keeping them out, she contended, would relieve the American taxpayer from the burden of having to protect their rights.

The Minutemen's message was especially aimed at politicians who, they said, are obligated to uphold the law and protect national boundaries. Failing to secure America's frontiers from a "foreign invasion" of "disease-ridden immigrants," according to Marvin Stewart, an ordained minister and member of the Minuteman board of directors, amounted to a "failure to uphold their oath of office."

Senator Edward Kennedy (D-MA), and Senator John McCain (R-AZ), whose recent immigration bill proposes a three-year work visa with the possibility of extension for up to 400,000 newly arrived workers, were denounced as "traitors." President George W. Bush, whose proposed temporary worker program would allow work permits for up to 11 million illegal aliens currently in the United States, was accused of offering rewards to those who have broken the law by entering the country illegally. "[In a few years] the White House can be occupied by a party other than Democrats or Republicans!" said Gilchrist to a hearty round of applause.

From behind a barricade manned by two-dozen police officers, pro-immigration demonstrators hurled insults at Minuteman rally participants. "We don't expect to change their minds," said Zach Robinson, an anti-Minutemen demonstrator and member of the International Socialist Organization, "We just want to demoralize them." The group of protestors — which included a mix of Latinos, Caucasians, and African-Americans — chanted pro-immigration and anti-Minuteman slogans in both Spanish and English. "This is the height of the Minuteman movement," said Robinson, referring to the relatively sparse turnout of Minuteman Project supporters. "What millions of workers did in a one-day (May 1) work stoppage had a huge impact on our economy. These people are a fringe group and this is the best they had to offer."

Founded in April 2005, the Minuteman Project has gained national attention through its organization of volunteer border patrols. The patrols were formed to rectify what they claim is a failure on the part of the federal government to effectively slow illegal immigration — specifically from Mexico — by not dispatching enough border patrol agents. While the organization claims to be only offering assistance to official U.S. border patrols by reporting the illegal crossings of immigrants along the U.S.-Mexico border, it has received heavy criticism for brandishing pistols and other assorted weaponry.

Many detractors consider the group's stated mission an excuse for Latino-bashing, and it has been accused by human rights groups of harboring racists, neo-Nazis and members of the KKK among its ranks. The criticism of U.S. border policies offered by the Minuteman Project has been a major point of contention between Vicente Fox and the Bush Administration, and led President Bush to denounce the Minutemen as "vigilantes" in March of last year.

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