Fraser man joins Minutemen to help prevent illegal immigration
July 10, 2008
Illegal immigration across the southern border of the United States has become a major problem in recent years, and one local man has been doing his part to stop it.
Fraser resident Travis Beckham decided to take action by volunteering for the “Minutemen.” Called heroes by some and vigilantes by others, the controversial “Minutemen” organization has been posting its members along the nation’s border with Mexico in an effort to stop immigrants from crossing the border illegally.
Formerly a church youth director in Irving, Texas, Beckham moved to Fraser in 2004 to become a host at Winter Park Resort and a member of the Fraser Valley Lions Club. He described himself and the other volunteer members of the Minutemen as citizens who are just trying to protect this country from an uncontrolled wave of illegal immigration.
“The Minutemen are not the bad guys in this situation,” Beckham said. “We’re patriots who just got fed up with the government not doing anything to solve this problem. We said that if the government won’t do it, we will.”
Since joining the Minutemen in 2005, Beckham has participated in one of its “musters” in Arizona and four in New Mexico. During the musters, which last at least a month, the volunteer members assemble to conduct surveillance operations along the border with Mexico.
During these border watches, the Minutemen volunteers attempt to spot illegal immigrants coming across and then inform authorities where they can be found once they have entered U.S. territory.
Because the Minutemen are volunteers without legal authority, they are not allowed to apprehend or arrest any illegal immigrants they find.
“We had no authority to try to stop any illegal ourselves or even talk to them,” Beckham said. “If we tried to do that, the ACLU was just looking for something like that to come after us.”
A typical Minutemen operation, Beckham said, involved 15 to 40 of the volunteers staking out a section of the border. Splitting into two-person teams, they spread out in a line across the desert to cover the most likely routes that illegals would try to use to sneak across the border after dark.
“We worked at night while the U.S. Border Patrol mostly worked during the day,” Beckham said. “In the middle of our line, we’d have a truck with someone manning a thermal-imaging scope that could see heat-producing bodies from 400 meters out.
“As the illegals came closer, we’d call up the Border Patrol and let them know. When they got close to our line, we’d turn on our 15-million candle power spotlights and they’d hit the ground. Once the lights were on them, they never tried to get away and stayed put until the Border Patrol showed up.”
In addition to working the border watches at night, Beckham volunteered to be his Minutemen group’s “scout.” It was his job to drive through the desert parallel with the border trying to spot the footprints of illegal immigrants who had crossed during the night.
“I became the scout because I was the only one with the four-wheel drive jeep that could go anywhere in the desert,” he said. “My dog Domino and I would go scouting in the mornings. We could only go in areas where my cell phone could work in case we got into trouble.”
Beckham described it as “a real cat-and-mouse game” between the Minutemen and the illegal immigrants.
“These people are not stupid, and some of them were a lot smarter than us,” he said. “Many would cover their shoes with gauze to try to cover up their footprints.”
Beckham said the real villains in this whole situation are the “coyotes,” which is the nickname given to the smugglers who assist illegal immigrants in crossing the border for a price.
“The coyotes are despicable and are just a bunch of ruthless mercenaries who don’t care about these people,” he said. “Near Deming, New Mexico, where I was during four musters, we found illegals out in the desert who were dehydrated and emaciated after running out of food and water. The coyotes had told them they’d be picked up on Interstate 10, which they said was only 10 miles across the border. It is actually 28 miles.”
Beckham said the number of robberies and rapes by coyotes against their “clients” has been on the rise. He said the illegal immigrants carry cash to pay the “pick-up men” once they get on the other side of the border, but many of the coyotes will rob them first.
When most Americans hear about illegal immigrants, they assume Mexican nationals are the majority of the ones coming across the United States’ southern border. But that is not correct, according to Beckham.
“The majority of those coming across are what we call OTMs, which stands for Other Than Mexicans,” he said. “We’ve caught people from lots of other South and Central American countries as well as Iranians, Russians, Pakistanis, Iraqis, you-name-it.”
In one disturbing incident during his first muster in Arizona during 2005, Beckham said he and his partner were staking out a spot on the border when they spotted a large group trying to cross. Calling in the U.S. Border Patrol, a group of 27 illegal immigrants were eventually caught later that night.
“Our mole in the Border Patrol later told us that three of those 27 were suspected members of Al Qaida,” he said. “After he told us that, the Border Patrol management found out he talked to us and he was transferred.”
The U.S. Border Patrol authorities were not always sympathetic to the Minutemen.
“When I started, the sheriffs and other police in Arizona would work with us and provide us with help or protection if we needed it, but not the Border Patrol,” Beckham said. “They had this catch-and-release policy where an illegal could get caught 13 times before he could be arrested and thrown in jail.”
However, due to the national outcry over illegal immigration, major changes began to be seen last year in how the Border Patrol operates and how illegal immigrants are being handled.
“In 2007, the Border Patrol made a 180-degree turnaround and became very supportive,” Beckham said. “And they are no longer handcuffed by that catch-and-release policy. Any illegal apprehended now goes to jail for two to four weeks before being deported.”
Beckham said the federal government has also been beefing up the Border Patrol over the past year.
During his April 2007 muster near Deming, N.M., the Border Patrol had only 110 officers working that area, which covered several thousand square miles of desert.
When he arrived back there for his next muster in October, the number of Border Patrol officers had risen to 200. In his last muster this past April, the Deming area had 400 officers plus another 50 in training.
“And they’re fully equipped now with horses and ATVs,” Beckham said. “Along with it, an electronic fence and thermal imaging cameras on towers have been set up along the border. By December, they hope to have another 400 miles of barrier fence up. It’s becoming a real deterrent.”
With this increased effort by the federal government, Beckham said he has also seen a dramatic decrease in the number of illegal immigrants attempting to cross the border.
“In April 2007, 5,600 illegals were caught on average a month, but that number fell to 1,200 by October,” he said. “This April, we know of only eight getting caught.”
Beckham said that where his Minutemen group has operated in New Mexico, the border is effectively shut down to illegal immigration.
“I was shocked,” he said. “The border may not be totally secure yet, but what they are doing is working. It was kind of frustrating for me because we weren’t finding any illegals. This April was probably my last trip down there.”