ACLU of Arizona to Provide Legal Observers During Controversial "Minuteman" Border Watch Program

Affiliate: ACLU of Arizona
March 30, 2005 12:00 am

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ACLU, Advocacy Groups Fear Anti-Immigrant Violence

PHOENIX — The American Civil Liberties Union of Arizona, in its traditional role as a guardian of civil liberties, announced today that it will be providing legal observers throughout the month of April at the site of the Minuteman Project at the Arizona-Mexico Border.

The Minuteman Project, a widely publicized event planned for the month of April, has the potential to bring more than a thousand critics of U.S. immigration policy to Arizona for the stated purpose of protesting the alleged lack of enforcement at the U.S.- Mexico Border.

“We recognize the right of a country to defend its borders,” said Eleanor Eisenberg, Executive Director of the ACLU of Arizona, “but it must be done by the proper authorities and in a humane way. Too many migrants, coming to this country for the jobs we offer, have died in the desert from heat, dehydration and exhaustion. It would be even more tragic to have migrants die as a result of violence.”

In the past, the Minuteman sponsoring organization is alleged to have engaged in activities that go beyond First Amendment-protected activity and that is intended to intimidate, harass or otherwise interfere with the rights of others. Many immigrant advocacy groups, including the ACLU, have expressed concern that members of white supremacist and other hate organizations will be participating and may trigger violence.

The anticipated mix beginning on April 1 will include Minutemen, counter-protesters, demonstrators in support of the human rights of migrants, Border Patrol and FBI agents, and possibly local authorities. The ACLU of Arizona will provide legal observers as it has for other events. The observers are neutral observers and recorders and not participants, noted ACLU of Arizona Board President Stan Furman, a former Arizona State Senator.

“The First Amendment protects the rights of all to speak, gather and protest,” said Furman, emphasizing that the ACLU has often represented the interests of those with whom it strongly disagrees. “We have no intention of preventing the Minutemen or other protesters from engaging in constitutionally-protected first amendment activity. However, we are also concerned that protesters not engage in activity that violates the civil rights of others.”

Toward this end, the ACLU has urged the FBI and other law enforcement agencies to take an active role in preventing such abuses. At the same time, Furman said that the legal observers will monitor Minuteman activity and note any abuses of migrants to determine if legal action is warranted to protect against civil rights abuses and other possible criminal violations.

Ray Ybarra, an ACLU Racial Justice Fellow working on border and migrant issues in Douglas, Arizona, added, “Our concerns are based on the past history of abusive behavior by those who believe that the migrants are coming to ‘destroy our way of life.’ We must emphasize that these individuals are not to be dismissed as evil racists. Rather, they are symbolic of the fear and misunderstanding that exists in our society.”

Observers will also monitor law enforcement activity and note any infringements on the First Amendment-protected activities of all of the groups.

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