By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
Before Bill Parmley left the Texas Minutement Civil Defense Corps, he set up a Houston chapter and encouraged its members to begin monitoring day-labor sites. Their mission there was to film employers picking up undocumented laborers, eventually gathering enough evidence to challenge the Houston Police Department's hands-off policy regarding the enforcement of immigration law.
The Minutemen have already begun filming, despite the announcement that they would start in October. The group's goal is to challenge the city's federal funding. If Houston can't follow the nation's laws, they say, it shouldn't get federal money.
Politicians don't want to address the problem, says George Klages, the spokesman for the Houston chapter, "but we've got to force them to and the only way to do it is if we have such a confrontation."
A 65-year-old vet whose wife is from Mexico, Klages says he favors a guest worker program, although he can't speak for the rest of the group. Day laborers are "being preyed on because they can't do anything about it," he says. "If we had some kind of a legal workers program, that wouldn't happen."
And Pedro couldn't agree more, even if he does say the Minutemen have mini mentes, or little minds. When he crossed the Rio Grande five years ago in search of work, he says he lost all the photos of his family in the river. He'd like to go back and visit his family but doesn't want to risk crossing the border. "When I do go back, my children won't recognize me," he says. "They will say, 'Who is this man?' and my wife will have to tell them, 'It's your papa.'"
Members of the Minutemen say they have no intention of confronting day laborers (and there's little reason to believe otherwise--the Houston chapter is a small group of retirees), but this plan presents its own problem: How can they be sure the people they're filming are undocumented immigrants and not just down-on-their-luck, homegrown American citizens?
"We do know that they are illegal," says Al Garza. "There is a certain formula that is in conjunction with these things. Your average American doesn't pile up into groups and look for work."
At a news conference held last month at St. Anne Catholic Church, Houston City Councilman Adrian Garcia said the police department would watch the Minutemen as they would the Ku Klux Klan or the Black Panthers. The Reverend Oscar Cantu of Holy Name Catholic Church said comprehensive immigration reform was necessary, asking for family reunification and a program that would allow undocumented immigrants to earn their citizenship. "We have exploited workers, divided families, deaths in the desert and fake documents," he said. "Now we have an anti-immigrant group coming to Houston to intimidate workers in our community."
Back when Parmley was president, he had a ready-made response for comments from the Catholic Church: They need to take a lesson from the Minutemen and do background checks because "you don't find a bunch of child molesters in the Minutemen." He's since lost a bit of his bite, although he says he still supports the goals of the Minutemen movement. The exploitation of people and destruction of property aren't going away, and they're happening in his own backyard. But there's no way in hell he'd ever sign up again, he says, as long as the national organization refuses to boot out some of the Goliad folks.
"You'll probably see me out there helping La Raza," he says, referring to the national Hispanic advocacy group.
Garza says he'd love to have Parmley back. "He's a very good guy. In fact, he belongs as the president," he says. "I only took his place primarily because I liked what I saw in him." But Parmley seems content where he is, running his company and spending time on his ranch, walking through the thicket and watching out for rattlesnakes.
He's got fences to mend.