August 26, 2005

Closely observing the Minutemen

• The San Diego Legal Observer Coalition is recruiting volunteers to document the activities of anti-immigrant group that will arrive at the border on September 16.

By Pablo Jaime Sainz

During this summer, when the so-called Minutemen arrived at the small border town of Campo, located to the east of San Diego, Hugo Figueroa used to read in the newspapers that legal observers were closely watching the anti-immigrant groups.

The student from Chula Vista wished he could join the observers and give support to the activists who opposed the famous Minutemen’s actions against immigrants, the majority of whom are Mexican.

That’s why he got excited when this week he heard about the group of lawyers that have come together in San Diego to recruit legal observers that will closely watch the Minutemen, or as they’re called in Spanish, cazamigrantes, that are planning to arrive at the border near Tecate on September 16.

“That’s the opportuniy I was waiting for to participate and help out so that there’s justice at the border,” said 22-year-old Figueroa.

The goal of the San Diego Legal Observer Coalition, as the group of lawyers is called, is to observe and record the interactions between the Minutemen—that most likely will be armed— and the undocumented immigrants they are planning to stop, said Juan Gallegos, one of the founders of the coalition.

“The purpose of the monitoring is to deter potential abuses such as assault and unlawful arrest by documenting these interactions,” he said.

The lawyer made it clear that observers will neither confront or engage the vigilantes.

“We recognize that many volunteers will have strong feelings about the issues involved, but our purpose is to observe interactions and not to provoke incidents,” Gallegos said.

Figueroa said he only wants to participate to be sure that there are no injustices against paisanos.

Volunteer observers will be trained and then divided into groups of 2 or 3 people. They will have all the necessary equipment for the observations and documentation, such as video and still cameras, binoculars and two-way radios, Gallegos said.

The job of the volunteers will be divided into three stages: They will attempt to follow the Minutemen at a distance of 10 to 30 feet, they will record the interactions between the Minutemen and immigrants with the video and still cameras, and they will report to the proper authorities any illegal activities they observe, Gallegos said.

The lawyer warned that any person that’s decided to become a volunteer must know that this is a high-risk activity, because of the potential violence and the harsh mountain and desert conditions.

“When one goes out to observe what these antiimmigrant groups are doing, one knows one needs to be carefull,” said Figueroa, who added he will register for training to become an observer this week.

The group called “Friends of the Border Patrol” has announced it will begin it’s operation in different points near the border with Baja California on September 16, Mexican independence day.

Gallegos said the date is “a deliberately provocative day.”

But Andy Ramirez, founder of Friends of the Border Patrol, said that that day was chosen for its simbolism and as a day when Americans can support Mexicans in declaring their independence against their government that “allows smugglers to control their lives and drug dealers to use children to get drugs across the border.”

“This isn’t a slap on the face of the Mexican people, but a great proof of support to end the exploitation from their government,” Ramirez said.

Although Friends of the Border Patrol plans to stay at the border until September 25, another Minutemen group, led by Oceanside resident Jim Chase, is planning to come back in October.

The San Diego Legal Observer Coalition is formed by four lawyer agencies: American Civil Liberties Union, American Immigration Lawyers Association, La Raza Lawyers of San Diego and National Lawyers Guild of San Diego.

To register as an observer

If you’re interested in becoming a legal observer during the Minutemen operation in September, you can all Juan Gallegos at (619) 232-2121, Ext. 28.

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