The Hunted

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"It's the Minutemen," one worker told Jimenez. The volunteers weren't toting any signs or banners, so the center coordinator had called the police to find out who they were. After Kirby told him, the responding officer explained to the workers that what the Minutemen were doing was legal, as long as there were no confrontations.

Hearing all this, Jimenez shrugged. He knew about the Minutemen, but he thought they were mostly down near the border. He had other things to worry about, and besides, what could they do, anyway? It's not like they were federal officials. A few minutes later, a contractor pulled into the driveway to pick him up for a carpentry job.

Jimenez may have had office work in Juarez, but he's no stranger to physical labor. When he was a 7-year-old in Tabasco, Mexico, his father, an oil worker, left the family, and Jimenez began working before and after school. He sold gum and shined shoes, mended fences and fetched tortillas so he could make six or seven pesos a day and give one to each of his three sisters and the rest to his mother.

"My toys were tools," he told me in Spanish over dinner one night, his eyes bleary after 12 hours of demolition work, his face covered with stubble. After high school he did a stint at college but dropped out because it was too expensive. In the years that followed, he worked as a census taker, an assistant superintendent for a construction company and a marketing representative.

By the time his wife became pregnant for the first time four years ago, he was making just $600 a month at the Juarez newspaper. They still owed money on their $60,000 home, and the payments were around $400 a month. Without his wife's income from her job as the newspaper's subscriptions manager, they'd never be able to pay their bills. That was when they made the decision that thousands of Mexicans make each year: They'd leave everything they knew and head north. His wife had a sister in Dallas, and she wanted her children to be born in the United States so they'd have better opportunities than their parents. Jimenez was concerned about her health since she'd been diagnosed with diabetes, and he knew she'd get better medical care here than in Mexico. So they used tourist visas to cross the border into El Paso, then drove to Dallas and stayed with relatives until they found their own apartment.

In those first months, he questioned the decision every day. When I asked him what it was like, he paused and looked down. "I'd never felt as alone in all my life," he said.

Jorge Ibarra also left Mexico so he could make more money to support his family—in his case, four children from two marriages. But he was more disturbed than Jimenez by the Minutemen's presence at the Day Labor Center.

"I thought they were going to take us to Immigration," said Ibarra, who, after going broke selling shoes in Mexico City, paid a coyote, or smuggler, $500 to be guided through the desert. "I thought they were only near the border. When I crossed, there were stories in Mexico that the Minutemen were hunting down migrants and shooting them. But I was more desperate to cross than I was afraid."

While the Garland laborers complained about being spied on, Kirby and his team sat in their cars across the street and watched through the windshields, their faces obscured by binoculars and video cameras.

They'd been invited to Garland by residents who complained of rising crime around the center, though Garland police spokesman Joe Harn says crime rates are actually down in the area. To Kirby, it was a good place to begin what he hopes will be a series of labor watches across North Texas, especially since the Garland center is operated with tax dollars, which he and other critics call a misuse of public funds.

In the past year, the surveillance of day labor centers has become a major national focus of the Arizona-based Minuteman Civil Defense Corps and its sister organization, the Minuteman Project, which spurred a media blitz in 2005 by organizing patrols along the Arizona border. New Minuteman chapters have popped up in towns and cities across the country since last spring's immigration reform proposals, including one that would grant citizenship to millions of illegal immigrants.

Kirby says a large number of the 200-plus members of the North Texas chapter, which was formed a little more than a year ago, joined in the wake of immigrant rights marches held in cities across the country, including Dallas. "I wish all the Hispanic activist groups would have another demonstration in Dallas or anywhere," Kirby says. "I'm just waiting for them to have Mexican flags in our streets and see the spike in our membership."

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Megan Feldman
Contact: Megan Feldman