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Private volunteers patrol a porous border

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"We think there is a strong possibility of conflict and misunderstanding," says Eleanor Eisenberg, head of the American Civil Liberties Union of Arizona, which has trained dozens of volunteers to monitor the minutemen.

The US Border Patrol has also stated loudly that the minutemen will not help agents do their jobs. They worry about the civilian volunteers setting off ground sensors, complicating video surveillance, and creating security problems. "Having a large number of people walking purposefully around the areas of migrant trails is not beneficial to us," says Rob Griffin of the US Border Patrol's Tucson sector.

The minutemen say one goal is to draw attention to the underfunding of the Border Patrol. But officials counter they don't need the help: Last week, the agency's Tucson sector announced a 25 percent increase in staffing in Arizona, which includes 155 permanent personnel and 200 temporary. Twenty-three new aircraft are surveying the area as well.

Countering perceptions

The minutemen may have as much PR work to do about their own organization as they do about the Border Patrol. In advance of their highly publicized initiative this week, critics - including some state and federal officials - labeled some of the volunteers "vigilantes," "racists," and "white supremacists."

Clearly, the group is trying to dispel those perceptions. At rallies in Naco and Douglas over the weekend, volunteers waved American flags and stood politely outside Border Patrol offices. They provided biographies and explained their intentions. Most say they have sacrificed to be here. They have spent their own money on food and travel. Some are sleeping in tents or in dorm rooms at a local Bible college. Many are missing work.

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