Justone more thing to deal with on the border

Published on Thu, Oct 20, 2005 by ack Kintner

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Just one more thing to deal with on the border

By Jack Kintner

A volunteer group calling itself the Minutemen began patrolling the international border between Blaine and Sumas this month to publicize what it feels are shortcomings in the Border Patrol’s ability to do the job.

The day before the Minutemen began their patrols, an anti-Minuteman rally was held at the Peace Arch by the Coalition for Professional Law and Border Enforcement in Whatcom County and a Canadian group called “No One is Illegal.”

Deputy chief Joe Guiliano of the Blaine Border Patrol Sector said that the arrival of the volunteer citizens’ group is just one more change in a border situation that “five years ago I wouldn’t have envisioned.” Prior to September 11, 2001, the Border Patrol was an arm of the Department of Justice but now is a part of the Department of Homeland Security.

Though the Minutemen insist that despite congressional efforts after 9/11 agencies patrolling the border are under-staffed and under-equipped, Guiliano was more positive, “given that the situation both here and in Washington, D.C., can change rapidly, and given that there’s only a certain amount of staff and money to go around nationwide, here in the Blaine sector we’ve added over 90 agents, built the ‘eye in the sky’ cameras on towers along the border, and have built up our inventory of sensing equipment and vehicles.” The Blaine sector also has taken over tactical control of the operation formerly conducted by the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) with its seven pilots operating both rotary and fixed wing aircraft.

The Blaine sector includes the westernmost 19 counties in the state of Washington plus all of Alaska and Oregon, although resources are concentrated in Whatcom County. Guiliano said that as the number of agents has increased from 48 to 132 in the four years since 9/11, the number of apprehensions has gone down, which he said is an indicator of his agency’s effectiveness.

“We had 1,354 apprehensions in our sector from October 2003 through the next 12 months, since we measure the statistics by the October to October federal fiscal year. Last month we totaled the figures for the following year and apprehensions fell by 26 percent, down to 998,” Guiliano said.

The Blaine sector recently completed a new administration facility on Nature’s Path Way south of the Blaine airport, leaving the present facility on H Street for use by local Blaine-based agents. Transitioning to the new facility will also allow the Border Patrol to address some gaps in their new technology. For example, communications specialist Amy Kaya said that, “In addition to dispatching the patrol and, after regular business hours, the Blaine Police, I’m also responsible for all the 911 calls from Blaine, Lynden and Sumas, and I still don’t have caller ID. But when I move to the new building, I hope we can fix that.”

Kaya sits in a darkened room keeping track of 56 TV and computer monitors. “We can see a lot through the cameras,” she said, easily zooming in to read license plates of cars along H Street Road and Boundary Road east of the Guide, “Some of it is kind of embarrassing, like the time another dispatcher watched four girls get out of their car on 0 Avenue that runs along the border on the Canadian side and moon him.” The equipment is so far unique to the northwest.

The arrival of the Minutemen, a fairly new group often in the news for its volunteer patrolling activities along the U.S.-Mexican border, has not been without controversy. The county-based Coalition for Professional Justice sponsored an anti-Minuteman Peace Arch rally on October 1, the day the Minutemen began the Whatcom County part of the Minutemen’s October “month of emphasis.” Coalition leader Sharon Monteiro of Bellingham alluded to a connection between the Minutemen and white supremacy groups such as the Idaho-based Aryan Nation when she asked “is this the proper way to solve this problem, by going outside the regular process? People should read the two books written about vigilante activity in Whatcom County.

There’s Lone Patriot by New Yorker contributor Joan Kramer, and In God’s Country by David A. Neiwert. It’s a little scary when you see what the possible connections might be,” Monteiro said.

Tom Williams of Deming, spokesman for the local Minuteman group, said in a recent interview that the Minutemen, officially the Minuteman Civil Defense Corps of Tombstone, Arizona, began making contacts in the area last July, building toward a planned emphasis on volunteer border patrols to be held in 11 border states nationwide this month.

Williams said that he began getting local volunteers because of recognized problems with border security having to do with a lack of manpower and financial support to do the work. “We want the Border Patrol to be able to get the kind of support, attention and budget that our troops in Iraq get along the Syrian border,” Williams said, adding that so far there are about 19” Whatcom County volunteers who have been joined by others from out of state.

When asked if they were actually out patrolling, Williams and others contacted for this story stressed that they do not patrol the border, just watch it from obvious observation posts. Referring to their 20-page “Volunteer Training Manual,” they pointed out a paragraph that states unequivocally “Minuteman Corps volunteers only observe, report and direct the Border Patrol to suspected illegal aliens or illegal activities…This one rule sums up the extent of our operations in the field.”

For Monteiro, the issue is that many of the Minutemen are armed while on patrol. “If our only option is for people to pick up guns then we’re in a sad state of affairs,” Monteiro said.

Williams said that about a third of his volunteers are armed with concealed handguns, but that they strictly prohibit their members from carrying shotguns or rifles. “We’re not interested in getting between a border patrol agent and a suspect and we are very clear about this with our volunteers,” he said, “we’re just sitting out there in our pickup trucks with binoculars, watching what’s happening.”

Guiliano said that the Border Patrol offered no training to the group since “we don’t really have a civilian auxiliary, such as the Coast Guard.”

He also said that he specified certain areas they were to avoid on their patrols. “We didn’t assign them spots,” Guiliano said, “but I voiced the concern that there are some places where if two armed men encountered each other, especially after dark, it could lead to a rather unfortunate chain of events, so we told them to stay away from those areas.” One of them, he said is the Columbia Valley area where South Pass Road meets Silver Lake Road just a few feet south of the border.
Williams said that every Minuteman volunteer receives from a few hours to a few day’s training and orientation. By comparison, Guiliano said that all Border Patrol agents have completed and passed all courses at a rigorous five and a half month academy followed by another three and a half months in-service training.

The first two years’ service are probationary, and agents serving in Whatcom County have all put in at least four or five years on the southern border. “Plus there’s a good bit of on the job training that just comes with experience,” Guiliano said, “I’m very proud of the job our people do.”