Controversial immigration group gains foothold in Chicago area

  • Medill News Service
  • January 31, 2006 @ 3:12 PM
A group that formed in Arizona last year to patrol the southern state's borders for illegal immigrants is gaining support in the Chicago area.

The Illinois Minuteman Project, the first chapter of the national organization not located in a border state, is calling for a tougher stance on illegal immigration.

"We want people in Illinois to get outraged enough to get up off their couch and take back their state," said Rosanna Pulido, founder of the Illinois chapter. "We stand for the enforcement of immigration laws already on the books."

The group held a weekend rally in Waukegan after an earlier protest in Cicero. Another demonstration is planned in Elgin in February.

There are Minutemen patrols in every state that borders Mexico. The group, which formed last April, is widely known for taking the illegal immigration problem into their own hands with around-that-clock patrols looking for illegal immigrants crossing into the United States.

Minutemen will begin patrolling the Midwestern states that border Canada as early as April, according to Connie Hair, a spokeswoman for the Minuteman Civil Defense Core.

Their tactics have drawn criticism.

"We would prefer to leave law enforcement to law enforcement, not vigilantes," said Ed Yohnka, a spokesman for the Illinois American Civil Liberties Union.

At Sunday's rally in Waukegan, about 50 members of the Illinois Minuteman Project protested against the Rev. Gary Graf, who the group claims is helping illegal immigrants in his parish. The protesters gathered on the grass outside the Lake County Community Health Center, half a block from Graf's Holy Family Church on Keller Road.

Ken Arnold, a Minuteman and congressional candidate living in Waukegan, said the project is often misunderstood as solely focusing on Mexico and Mexican immigrants.

"This has nothing to do with Mexican immigration [except that] there has been an upsurge of non-Mexican people crossing the Mexican border," he said. "Part of the problem is they are bringing diseases such as leprosy. There was a purpose for our historical immigration system."

Pulido said the Illinois Minuteman Project is currently making telephone calls, faxing and sending e-mails to Illinois' U.S. senators, Dick Durbin and Barack Obama, to encourage them to endorse an immigration reform bill introduced by Sen. James Sensenbrenner (R-Wisc.).

The bill, which is scheduled to be discussed in the Senate in late February, would allow local police to ask suspects about their immigration status. If suspects cannot produce a green card, they can be held in custody for up to a year.

"Sensenbrenner's bill does not go far enough," Pulido said. "It is not the whole pie, but a piece of it."

Fred Tsao, a spokesman for the Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights, said his organization is strongly opposed to Sensenbrenner's bill and will seek immigration reform alternatives that are fair and humane.

"Any enforcement-only approach is destined to fail," he said.

Pulido said she believes the American people are supportive of a strict strategy on illegal immigration.

"We know we have pushed the issue to a point now where we have a larger audience," she said. "People are fed up. They are getting vocal."