Minuteman-Style Border Patrol Is Over in No Time

Times Staff Writers

After touting their plans for months, organizers called off their Minuteman-style patrol of the California-Mexico border this weekend after a minor scuffle with counterdemonstrators and a far lower turnout than expected.

Friends of the Border Patrol, a Chino-based group, had said that hundreds of volunteers, some armed, would patrol the border along a 100-mile stretch from the coast to Imperial County, modeling their effort in part after April’s Minuteman Project in Arizona.

Their intention, they said, was to monitor -- not apprehend -- illegal immigrants and report their presence to the U.S. Border Patrol.

But on Saturday, organizer Andy Ramirez called it off, citing a fear of violence.


He said about 40 volunteers had showed up and, of them, 20 had registered for training at a nearby hotel.

“I can’t send them out if somebody is going to try to harm them,” Ramirez said.

Pushing and shoving broke out early Saturday after about 20 counterdemonstrators marched into the Scottish Rites Center in San Diego, where Border Watch volunteers had come to register for training, according to witnesses and police. One counterdemonstrator was cited for battery after he allegedly knocked down someone unaffiliated with either group.

Declaring victory, hundreds of counterdemonstrators Saturday evening marched through the streets of Calexico, Calif., with some saying citizen patrols were losing momentum and that they had chased out the few would-be patrollers who bothered to show up.

“It’s a disaster,” said Enrique Morones, president of the Border Angels, one of the immigrant rights groups that participated in the counter-protest. “The novelty of the minutemen has worn off.”

Morones said the low turnout reflected poor organization and the fact that people aren’t willing to volunteer for a group of “racist vigilantes.”

But Ramirez said the patrollers may regroup and try again next weekend.

The gathering began Friday, when Ramirez and eight others held a news conference at the rusted border fence across from Tijuana.

Even then, they were drowned out by a mariachi band and about 30 jeering counterdemonstrators waving Mexican flags and chanting in Spanish for the “caza migrantes” -- migrant hunters -- to go home.

The effort was the third in California in the past three months that failed to draw a significant number of volunteers. In Arizona, by contrast, organizers hailed the Minuteman Project as a success because the turnout was greater, media coverage was heavy and illegal crossings, according to the Border Patrol, dropped.

Minuteman-like groups are pressuring federal lawmakers to change immigration laws and bolster enforcement along the border. Border Watch had planned to send the volunteers, including former police officers and Border Patrol agents, to homes and ranches near the border, where they would call the Border Patrol if they spotted border crossers.

“This issue of border security has grown into a national emergency,” said Ramirez, who calls his group the “ultimate Neighborhood Watch.”

Arizona is the main corridor for illegal immigration into the U.S.; hundreds of thousands are apprehended annually. Illegal activity along California’s border has declined significantly in recent years.

Still, the illegal border traffic rankles many on the U.S. side, especially those living in the rugged backcountry east of San Diego.

Donna and Ed Tisdale, who live on a 400-acre ranch about a mile from the border, said they had planned to let Friends of the Border Patrol use their home as an observation post. Illegal migrants and drug smugglers cross their ranch regularly, and the U.S. Border Patrol doesn’t have enough agents to stop the flow, said Donna Tisdale.

“This is organized crime at work in our neighborhood. We’re desperate for help,” she said, adding that the volunteer group would have provided more “eyes and ears in the area.”

Tim Whitney, 50, a Chula Vista construction worker who attended the training session, said he was disappointed with the low turnout. “I was hoping for something more, for more Americans.”