TOMBSTONE, Ariz. (AP) – At least 100 volunteers registered by Friday afternoon for a monthlong effort to patrol the Mexican border for illegal immigrants and smugglers, an organizer of the project said.

The idea, according to organizers of the Minuteman Project, is for the volunteers to fan out across 23 miles of the San Pedro Valley to watch the border and report any illegal activity to federal agents – an exercise that some law enforcement authorities and others fear could lead to vigilante violence.

Many of the volunteers were recruited over the Internet and some plan to be armed. Rallies and orientation for the volunteers are planned over the weekend; the patrols are to begin on Monday.

Organizers originally said the Minuteman Project would draw upward of 800 participants, drawing skepticism from human rights activists and authorities who have seen similar efforts flop in the past.

Jim Gilchrist, a retired accountant from Aliso Viejo, Calif., who organized the project, said at least 100 volunteers had registered and dozens more were in town. There was no immediate way to independently verify the count.

Volunteers had been expected to keep arriving throughout the day, and it was difficult to distinguish them from counter-protesters and the merely curious.

The project is intended partly to draw attention to illegal immigration along the Arizona-Mexico border, considered the most vulnerable stretch of the 2,000-mile southern border. Of the 1.1 million illegal immigrants caught by the Border Patrol last year, 51 percent crossed into the country at the Arizona border.

Some people in this town nearly 30 miles north of the Mexican border, best known as the site of the 1881 shootout at the OK Corral, eagerly awaited the volunteers’ arrival as a way to boost the local economy.

Human rights activists expressed concern that the volunteers may abuse immigrants or get into violent confrontations with smugglers.

Robert Ordway said he was volunteering in response to the federal government’s admonition to be vigilant following the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

“The newspapers and the TV cameras are hoping something will go wrong and somebody will get hurt or somebody will do something stupid and that will draw attention,” said Ordway, from nearby Sierra Vista. “That ain’t going to happen. We’re not here to do that. We are here to support the Border Patrol, support the laws of the country and that’s what we’re after.


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