Locals will keep watch at border

EVERETT – Shawna Forde says President Bush and Congress can do more to blunt the stream of people illegally entering the U.S. each day.

Until they do, she plans to help.

This morning, the 38-year-old Everett woman will don a yellow armband, load up a cell phone, a two-way radio and binoculars, and stand watch on the border with Canada, looking for anyone trying to sneak into this country.

“I will be there to bring attention to Americans that our borders are wide open and we need to secure them,” said Forde, the media director and organizer of the Washington chapter of the Minuteman Project.

If she sees an illegal crosser, she’ll notify the U.S. Border Patrol.

She won’t be alone in looking. She said several hundred members from Washington, Oregon, Montana and Idaho will take part in the operation scheduled to run through October. The goal is to provide 24-hour surveillance at up to 15 outposts in Whatcom County and points east along the Washington-Canada border.

This operation marks the one-year anniversary of Minuteman activities in Whatcom County.

Don Jones of Everett won’t be there today, but he said he will be sometime this month.

“It is very low key. We just watch,” said Jones, 49, a Navy veteran now working as an aerospace test engineer. “We’re not out there to bust heads. We’re out there to watch.”

Watching is literally all they do. The group reaches agreements with private property owners so they can set up outposts on their land. Then members drive there, park and watch for crossers. Members stay on the property, Forde said.

There would be no need for this, Jones said, if federal law enforcement agencies had the money to hire enough officers to monitor the borders with Canada and Mexico.

Increased funding for U.S. Customs and Border Patrol agents is part of the homeland security budget debated in Congress on Friday.

Simply building a fence – as Congress voted this week to do along the southern border – is not the answer because no one will be there to catch those who scale it, Jones said.

When Ross Gillum, 55, of Snohomish stands watch later this month, it’s not because he wants to block immigrants but rather to ensure they act in accordance with U.S. rules.

“If they truly want to come over for a better life, they’d better get in line and do the paperwork,” he said.

“We’re asleep as a nation. We’re letting people into our country without any allegiance to our country,” he said. “That’s not the way our founding fathers set it up. They want people to assimilate.”

The Minuteman Project began in 2004 in response to the daily wave of people crossing the U.S. border from Mexico. Its first patrols were in Arizona, and it is currently conducting an extended operation in Texas.

Local and federal law enforcement agencies do not endorse the group’s activities, nor do they stop them as long as members follow the law.

“We’ve monitored them. We’ve not received any complaints about them,” said Whatcom County Sheriff Bill Elfo. “They pretty much keep us informed of where they are at.”

Rep. Rick Larsen, D-Wash., whose district stretches from Mukilteo to the Canadian border, said he didn’t think the presence of the Minutemen helped or hurt border security efforts.

He said along the Canadian border, there is a greater chance those trying to sneak in are drug smugglers and organized crime members rather than those seeking work.

“I do not want to see any citizens caught in the middle, trying to stop organized crime,” he said.

The Minuteman Project requires background checks and trains its volunteers.

“It impressed me. It made me feel better about who will be out there alongside me,” Forde said.

She is married and is the mother of two children. She said she worked in the music industry for several years and now is barbering part-time. She also designs and creates T-shirts with anti-illegal-immigrant slogans.

She knew of the Minuteman Project border watches long before she joined the group in June. She did so because she wanted to become more active in the fight against illegal immigration through the national group.

At the time, she was gathering signatures in an unsuccessful effort to qualify an initiative to limit state aid to illegal immigrants.

A month earlier, her emotions were inflamed by the turnout of thousands of people for pro-immigrant rallies in Seattle and other cities.

Forde said those who accuse Minuteman members of disliking Mexicans or being racist are wrong.

She’s frustrated that the federal government is not working hard enough to keep out illegal crossers, to deport those already here in violation of the law and to punish employers who offer the lure of a job to them.

“Without our border being secured, the sovereignty of our very life is being challenged, and we have to start taking it back,” she said.

“I’m a dedicated American mother who wants to save the country for my children and all American children so they can have some security in this country.”

Reporter Jerry Cornfield: 360-352-8623 or jcornfield@heraldnet.com.

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