Border Bedfellows

Santa Fe Reporter | August 17, 2005
Drug dealing. People smuggling. Bullets flying.

The scenario has all the dramatic makings of a Hollywood blockbuster—plus it’s set in New Mexico so it was only a matter of time before Gov. Bill Richardson got involved. But this is no movie.

Richardson last week declared a state of emergency along New Mexico’s increasingly violent southern border after shots were fired at Columbus Police Chief Clare May as he inspected abandoned vehicles suspected of transporting illegal immigrants. The governor directed $1.75 million to aid local and state law enforcement efforts to curb the violence, citing the “extreme state of disrepair” at the border of Mexico and New Mexico.

The declaration—and the governor’s call for Mexico to bulldoze the deserted town of Las Chepas, a staging ground for smuggling—caused a minor uproar south of the border and earned the governor national headlines.

It also ingratiated him to an unlikely ally: the Minutemen.

“I think the governor should be praised for having the courage to make this declaration,” says Bob Wright, director of the New Mexico chapter of the Minuteman Civil Defense Corps. “In many ways he stated the Minuteman position. We recognize that this is a federal job, we want them to do it, but until they do, we’re going to do something about it.

The Minutemen is a group of citizens that were branded racist vigilantes in some quarters and courageous patriots in others when they launched a campaign in April to monitor the movement of illegal aliens crossing into Arizona.

These days, the New Mexico chapter is up and running and has an operation scheduled for the state’s border in October. Wright says Richardson’s announcement underscores the severity of the problems associated with a porous border.

“I don’t think he overstated the problem,” Wright says. “I just think he’s just the first one to scream ‘the emperor has no clothes.’”

He won’t be the last either. At least according to Don Wooley, an MCDC member operating out of Oklahoma who is helping recruit volunteers for the New Mexico operation. Six weeks before the project begins, Wooley says hundreds of volunteers have signed on to stand watch, many mobilized by the publicity windfall reaped by the Arizona operation.

“I don’t know if I’ve seen protests that were that widely publicized since the Selma marches in the ’60s,” Wooley says. “Without a doubt it was a huge success well beyond the organizers’ expectations. They expected about 300 people to show up. They had something in the neighborhood of 1,600 people registered and about 850 who served a tour on the line.”

This weekend, the MCDC will conduct volunteer training in Columbus in advance of the New Mexico operation. The training—along with background checks for out-of-state volunteers—is part of the MCDC’s mission to keep the reigns tight on its members and to provide clarity toward the organization’s position.

“We aren’t against immigration,” Wooley says. “We’re against illegal immigration. No traffic should be happening in between the legal points of entry. All we ask is that people sign at the gate.”

The October operation will be a joint exercise in at least three states—New Mexico, Texas and Arizona—though Wooley says people in as many as six states have expressed an interest in joining the month-long vigil. A result, he says, of the effectiveness of the MCDC to get grassroots folks angry with federal ineptitude to confront the problem themselves.

“People march on Washington all the time and it doesn’t seem to have any effect,” Wooley says. “With this you are actually doing what you want the government to do with your boots on the ground. Middle America is mad about this issue and Washington refuses to listen.”

Including the Bush administration. But now the MCDC has an unlikely compatriot in the fight to bring the issue—and the federal government’s inability to adequately handle problems at the border—even if Richardson balks at endorsing the MCDC’s actions.

“The governor has made it clear that he believes border security is a governmental responsibility,” Spokesman Billy Sparks says. “The Minuteman Project is not the solution.”

Santa Fe Reporter

When it was founded in 1974, the Santa Fe Reporter's mission was to create lively competition for a stodgy and timid daily press. That tradition continues today. The Reporter investigates beneath the surface, presenting in-depth stories often overlooked or uninvestigated...
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