U.S. vigilante group recruiting members to patrol Mexican border

Maria Leon, EFE - 2/20/2002

DOUGLAS, Arizona - Human rights groups have complained about Operation Falcon, a campaign launched by the anti-immigrant group Ranch Rescue in an effort to recruit volunteers to help guard the border between Arizona and Mexico.

Through its Web page, the group made up of Texas ranchers has invited U.S. citizens to participate in a campaign aimed at stopping illegal immigration in Cochise County, Arizona, this spring. The group says members of terrorist organizations may have entered the United States illegally through that county, which continues to witness the most activity of any on the border between Mexico and the United States.

Ranch Rescue maintains it is now more important than ever to put border security into the hands of "good" citizens because the Border Patrol has been ineffective in stemming the tide of illegal immigration.

This is the second time Ranch Rescue has threatened to patrol the roads along the border between Douglas and Agua Prieta, Mexico.

In the past, the group has distributed flyers inviting volunteers to join in a "hunt" for undocumented immigrants, whom they describe as criminals who come to destroy ranches, rob and smuggle drugs.

According to the information on its Web page, the group plans to descend on the border between Arizona and the Mexican state of Sonora during the last two weeks of March.

Immigration attorney Isabel Garcia, director of the Human Rights Coalition of Arizona, said Ranch Rescue was coming to Arizona at the invitation of Douglas ranchers. A group of armed ranchers led by Roger Barnett has devoted itself to detaining undocumented immigrants in the Douglas area.

Barnett has stated on several occasions that he has detained and turned over approximately 1,000 undocumented immigrants to the Border Patrol.

Garcia said the presence of this anti-immigrant group in Arizona is another consequence of continued militarization along the border and unjust U.S. immigration laws.

"These groups are taking advantage of the uncertainty existing in our country to spread their racist hatred and resentment against undocumented immigrants," Garcia insisted.

The immigration attorney also said undocumented immigrants crossing the border at Douglas are generally Mexicans or Central Americans looking for work.

Illegal immigration has once again become a hot topic in Arizona, where legislators and Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) officials will meet next week to study a possible increase in the number of agents assigned to the area.