Rights activists plan to confront border watchdogs

PHOENIX -- A delegation representing human rights groups from across the country plans to confront civilian border watchdog organizations Friday over what the civil rights advocates call the use of excessive force to stop illegal immigrants.

The tactics employed by the watchdog groups are "illegal, unjust and violent," said Armando Navarro, who heads the National Alliance for Human Rights and the delegation that traveled to Arizona from California on Thursday.

The civilian watchdog groups, which include American Border Patrol, Civil Homeland Defense and Ranch Rescue, began appearing in Arizona in recent years as the state has become the preferred crossing point for thousands of illegal immigrants.

Border crossers began shifting to Arizona in large numbers as immigration officials cracked down on entry points in Texas and California. Some of the civilian groups have rounded up illegal immigrants while others report border crossers to U.S. authorities.

Chris Simcox, founder of Civil Homeland Defense, a 170-member volunteer group that patrols the border, said he had not heard from the delegation but would be glad to meet with them.

Simcox called the characterization of his group as a violent militia "slanderous."

Glenn Spencer, head of the Sierra Vista-based American Border Patrol, said his group isn't a militia. He also said he hadn't heard from the rights delegation.

"I'm standing on a ramp in Fort Stockton, Texas, right now refueling my airplane to visit a rancher who has huge problems with illegal immigrants," Spencer said. "(The delegation has) never made any attempt to contact us, so we of course have no plans to meet with them."

Navarro called it "convenient" that Spencer was out of town. He said the delegation will travel to Sierra Vista on Friday to try to meet with other members of the patrol.

"If he has any semblance of an organization, we're going to be looking for them," Navarro said. "They say, 'Join the hunt.' Well, the hunt is on them now. We are the hunters of the militias."

Navarro, a political scientist from the University of California-Riverside, said he hopes to establish a larger network of human rights groups to work against the civilian patrols.

Ruben Beltran, Mexican general consul in Phoenix, said he doesn't want vigilantes enforcing immigration laws, but approves of groups that try to protect migrants.

"We don't think it's fair for any individual to take the law into their own hands," Beltran said. "I think the work of good Samaritan groups is very commendable."

This is the second time such a delegation has visited southern Arizona.

Navarro and a smaller group visited on Memorial Day weekend in 2000, compiling a report that led to the formation of the National Alliance for Human Rights.

The current delegation includes representatives of groups from California, Texas, New Mexico, Illinois and Mexico.


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