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It is early one Saturday in November, still dark, and Clark Kirby and his volunteers are on their way to spy on a group of Latino men waiting for a chance to paint, saw, dig or demolish.
I'll be going on this stealth mission too. I just don't know where we're going yet.
Kirby, state director of the Minuteman Civil Defense Corps, an anti-illegal immigrant group that organizes civilian patrols along the border, had sent me a cryptic e-mail a few days before. "Pursuant to our policy of not giving specific 'when/where' information to non-volunteers, I cannot divulge anything to you, yet," he wrote. "I will call you on your cell phone at 6 a.m. and give you the information with which you will be able to meet me. I cannot, until then, even tell you in which city we will meet. Wear clothing appropriate for the weather conditions. The watch will be held rain or shine, for patriotism knows no weather restrictions."
Sure enough, the phone rings at 6 a.m. sharp. Kirby gives me directions and reminds me not to be late. "We can't violate our S.O.P.," he says, using the military abbreviation for Standard Operating Procedure.
Forty minutes later, I pull into the top-secret rendezvous spot: a Krispy Kreme parking lot in Arlington. Kirby is addressing about a dozen middle-aged and elderly volunteers bundled against the chill. Sixtyish, with light blue eyes and thinning hair, Kirby wears a Minuteman Civil Defense Corps baseball cap, a black bomber jacket and an earpiece.
"We're gonna wait here until the rest of our teams are deployed, then we'll go over there," he tells me. By teams, he means the groups of three to four volunteers who will drive in a fleet of SUVs to a day labor site, where workers in search of informal jobs gather in the morning. Though Minuteman groups initially focused on the border, their ranks have grown in the last year, and their focus has expanded to include stakeouts of day labor centers far from the Rio Grande. Kirby's chapter began its patrols of day labor sites in September in Garland. "We're observing the pickups of laborers to see if any I-9 forms are being filled out," Kirby says, describing how the Minutemen videotape workers and contractors, record the contractors' license plate numbers and send letters warning they may have broken the law by hiring illegal immigrants.
The federal I-9 form is required to document employees' immigration status, and employers who don't fill it out can be fined up to $10,000. But there are murkily defined exceptions for independent contractors and workers performing "casual employment" in private homes, and Immigration and Customs Enforcement rarely fines employers anymore, focusing instead on criminal prosecutions of big-time violators.
But no matter. Kirby notes with pride that he's the only one in his North Texas chapter to have attended every local day labor watch so far. "I cannot miss one," he says. "I have a duty to my country and a duty to my family." His children, 10 and 12, recently tested positive for exposure to tuberculosis, and he's convinced they came in contact with the disease through an illegal immigrant worker in their public school's cafeteria.
The first sliver of sun casts a pinkish glow over the eastern sky, and we climb into Kirby's spotless black Cadillac sedan. A man named Jim walks up to the window. The group's "security detail" for the morning and a retired law enforcement officer, he wears a headset. He drove by the labor site on his way to this "pre-operation briefing."
"There's just six people on the curb there," Jim reports.
"There'll be more," Kirby says with confidence. "It's still early."
Clark Kirby was named after Clark Air Force Base in the Philippines, where he was born and where his father worked as a B-29 navigator. He's lived in Texas since he was 3, and he likes to say, "I wasn't born here, but I got here as soon as I could." Texas is where he graduated from high school, married and had two children, went into business and retired and spent countless days fishing and hunting. He's watched the state change, and what he sees is alarming enough to propel him out of bed at 5 a.m. to fight what he considers to be a lawless invasion. In his view, the steady flow of immigrants across the border with Mexico drives down wages, endangers national security and ignites crime, amounting to a constant threat against America's legal and cultural order. And judging by his rigid punctuality and immaculately clean Cadillac, order is the governing principle of his life.
"The illegal behavior is everywhere we go, and the police can't be everywhere, Immigration can't be everywhere," he says. "Since the government is so hamstrung and paralyzed in enforcing our laws, the citizens have to pick up the slack."
He pulls into a strip mall and parks in front of Kenner's Kolache Bakery in Arlington. Across the street, in the driveway of the RaceTrac gas station, 15 or so Latino men are gathered on the curb. They shift their weight and kick at the ground, fists jammed into the pockets of Adidas jackets and gray hoodies. A few smoke cigarettes. The sun is a red orb hovering above the horizon now.
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