The volunteer border-watchdog group Minuteman Civil Defense Corps has launched a new monthlong campaign one year after its operations along the U.S.-Mexico frontier began drawing national attention.

The new effort comes as Congress debates controversial immigration-reform legislation that has drawn massive protests from advocates of illegal aliens.

Along with Arizona, the Minutemen have planned exercises along the border in California, New Mexico and Texas, and along the northern frontier in Washington, New Hampshire, Vermont and New York state.

J. Glenn Sorensen, a retired school administrator living in Flagstaff, Ariz., told the Associated Press the group already has accomplished part of its purpose, “to draw national attention to an insecure border.”

“I don’t think anybody wants to close the border – I certainly don’t,” he said. “Basically, I think they need to be secure.”

Bob Wright, director of New Mexico’s Minutemen group, said patrollers had been on duty less than 30 minutes Saturday when they alerted Border Patrol to the first group of illegal aliens – seven people – trying to enter the U.S.

Don Goldwater, a Republican candidate for governor and nephew of the late Sen. Barry Goldwater, was among the politicians and activists at a rally Saturday of at least 200 mostly older men and women at a remote southern Arizona ranch.

“Build us that wall – now!” Goldwater said, referring to a measure to add 700 miles of fences along the border.

Since Oct. 1, agents have caught more than 48,000 in the area patrolled now by the Minutemen, an increase of 48 percent over the same period last year.

The group’s national leader, Chris Simcox, said volunteers will keep an eye on four watering stations set up by the group Humane Borders.

The Border Patrol said more than 400 people died last year from exposure to the heat or dehydration as they tried to cross the desert into the U.S.

President Bush and Mexican President Vicente Fox favor a bill being debated in the Senate that establishes a guest-worker program allowing illegal aliens employed in the U.S. to stay and possibly gain citizenship. The House passed a controversial measure last month that tightens border security.

Critics accuse the Minuteman group of racism, but leaders say they reject any members of racist organizations who apply to volunteer.

A chief opponent, the American Civil Liberties Union said it was concerned over “the potential for taking actions and … attempting to enforce immigration laws.”

The Minutemen say, however, they only are reporters of illegal crossing to the Border Patrol.

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