Securing the nation's borders is a topic that comes up at nearly every appearance of presidential candidates lately.
The Minuteman Civil Defense Corps, which volunteers to protect U.S. borders, is conducting a border watch operation for New Hampshire starting this weekend and running through April.
Those who take part in the weekend-long exercise are instructed to bring the same kind of supplies you'd take on a Girl or Boy Scout adventure: binoculars, flashlights, cameras, lawn chairs, comfy and warm clothing, rain gear and food.
But this is a mission, and more weekend minutemen (and women) are needed to help conduct the New Hampshire border patrols, the organization says.
Ron Oplinus, state director of the minutemen in New Hampshire, said the group is not made up of people who are vigilantes or racists as they sometimes are portrayed. He said anyone who is racist or closed-minded is not allowed into the group, and the group's volunteers are people who are not anti-immigration, but are anti-illegal immigration.
One of the volunteers working with the New Hampshire Minutemen is Marty Hewson of Pittsburg, N.H. He is a retired border patrolman who worked for the United States Immigration Department in Texas first, and then later along the Vermont border out of Richford, he said.
"I'm the only one up here," Hewson said. He began his border patrol career in the El Paso and Brownsville, Texas, areas. He said the fact that he lived so near the border led volunteers in the fledgling New Hampshire Minutemen group to get his name and contact him to see if he would join them. He said he spent countless hours watching the Rio Grande River for aliens, and is well trained in the work, so he gladly offered his services free for the effort.
Hewson said he enjoys the New Hampshire Minutemen group. "You get to have some camaraderie with the guys," he said. "We're all looking for the same thing," he said, wanting to prevent illegal aliens from entering the country. "I can't say as we see very many people," he said, "but we're in a spot where there is a possibility. It's just like my old duty when I was in the border patrol."
When Hewson was contacted by the minutemen group, they asked him "if I was interested in becoming a Minuteman, and being a retired border patrol man with a total of 47 years of service in the military and with immigration, I thought, Ôwell heck yes, I'm used to line watching.'"
"The illegal immigration issue occurs in all of the states, so we are trying to establish chapters in all of the states," Oplinus said. The original minuteman organization was established several years ago in Arizona and has grown and spread to many of the states. "We formed the New Hampshire chapter just about a year ago. What we do here in the state is we do go up to our border with Canada and establish what we call an operating post. Basically what the minutemen do is go out and observe activity and if we see anything that looks suspicious or illegal we would contact the Border Patrol and they would come down and investigate."
In April, the minutemen nationally established April and October as month-long events for border patrols.
"Particularly at the southern border, they'll be operating 24/7, here in the north we do not have the resources to do that," Oplinus said. "We will be going up to the border on several weekends."
The New Hampshire minutemen were to begin the border watches for the state last weekend, but snow and rain and mud forced them to postpone until this weekend, Oplinus and Hewson said Friday.
The access point the New Hampshire group uses to the border up near Pittsburg was hard to travel last weekend, so they are hoping this weekend will fare better.
Although there is not a lot of activity along New Hampshire's border with Canada, there is some illegal activity crossing in there, Oplinus said.
"There are several thousand people coming across the New England border with Vermont, New York, New Hampshire and Maine," Oplinus said. "One of the neighbors near where we are says she sees the border patrol coming by any time of the day or night and she sees the search lights. There are a lot of sensors embedded in the ground so they know when there is a lot of activity ... we view our role as providing another set of eyes and ears to the border patrol."
There are 36 members in the New Hampshire Minutemen group which does not wear uniforms and are civilians. They are not an armed group, but Oplinus, who does not carry a weapon, said members do have a right to bear arms. "I will say that people do have a right to carry in this state and some people do choose to keep a weapon. We don't allow any guns out; they have to be holstered. Beyond that, we are out in the wilds, and if a man chooses to carry a sidearm, he's allowed to. We don't ask. It's purely a personal choice and purely for defensive means. I have never carried a weapon at all."
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