"I'm a right-wing conservative Bush supporter, and I think Bush is wrong on immigration," Morgan said, citing the president's support of a guest-worker program that would allow more Mexicans to work legally in the United States on a temporary basis.
Morgan, 60, a general contractor, stood on a hillside with two other men, monitoring the barbed-wire fence and sharing grievances about border crossers. They complained about provisions in some states to issue driver's licenses or in-state tuition rates to illegal immigrants. Darrel Wood, 44, a fiber-optics engineer, said eight of the 10 most-wanted criminals in his home state of Utah are illegal immigrants; Morgan blamed them for prison overcrowding and California's fiscal crisis.
U.S. Border Patrol agents patrol on ATVs along the U.S.-Mexico border near Douglas, Ariz., where Minuteman volunteers have staffed posts.
(Fred Greaves--For The Washington Post)
"It's affecting my children at school," Wood said. "They're suffering, trying to get these immigrant kids up to speed."
In the five days since Minuteman volunteers began arriving, the Border Patrol had apprehended far fewer immigrants than usual -- about 100 a day, down from the usual 300, said Andy Adame, a Tucson-based spokesman for the federal agency.
But Adame said he believed the decrease was linked to an operation by Mexican officials on the other side of the border. "We don't attribute that to the civilians patrolling the desert," he said. Minuteman organizers said they have directed their volunteers to call Border Patrol if they spot suspicious activity, rather than confronting the people themselves. Adame said he could not say how many calls they had received from Minutemen, if any; he said there had been no rise in the overall number of calls they receive from citizens.
Adame also reiterated the Border Patrol's objections to the program, noting that the volunteers were setting off sensors placed along the border and blurring the footprints agents often follow in search of illegal immigrants.
"They're tromping all over the place making our job a little more difficult," he said. "It's not a major crisis, but it is detrimental to our operations."
Officials with the Cochise County Sheriff's Department reported no incidents connected to the Minuteman effort. There were, however, anecdotal accounts of testy exchanges between the Minutemen and representatives of the various organizations that oppose the program.
Kathryn Ferguson, a Tucson documentary filmmaker who volunteered as a "legal observer" with the Arizona chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union, reported encounters with "a lot of verbally aggressive people" who called her a terrorist or communist.
She said that one of her colleagues -- a woman with a dark complexion -- approached a team to pet a dog and was told by its owner, "My dog's trained to keep people like you off my land." But she said other Minutemen were pleasant, chatting about how they had never been involved in a protest before or how much they enjoyed the desert.
Morgan scoffed at the suggestion that his crowd of fellow border-watchers harbored any malcontents. "This is a cross section of America, and I love being with them," he said. In the meantime, though, he wished things would liven up a bit.
"I'd like to see some more movement," he said. He was eager to put the night-vision goggles to work and had volunteered to fly a plane for aerial surveillance.
Paul Johnson, 60, a native of Jamestown, N.Y., with a sheathed knife on his belt, recalled the ominous sight the team spotted on Saturday, its first trip to the barbed-wire frontier.
"We saw 15 ready to cross the border, all dressed in black," he said. "They saw us and just stood there for an hour." He said they were later escorted away by a relief group and driven back into Mexico.
Morgan nodded. "They'll just make an attempt later on."