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If so, the Minutemen have a way to go to sell their message--or at least themselves as its messenger. In a recent CBS News poll, 65% of respondents said they oppose the group's border patrols. But in the same poll, 75% of respondents said the U.S. government is not doing enough to keep illegal immigrants out. Says Jacoby: "The Minutemen are a small group, but they can be the tail that wags the dog."
How vigorously they try is what concerns immigrants and their supporters. Tisha Tallman, a regional counsel for the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund who has been monitoring the Herndon situation, concedes that U.S. immigration law is "broken and does not correspond with our current reality." The bills that have been circulating in Congress take different, sometimes overlapping approaches to the problem. The most divisive issue among them is whether undocumented immigrants should be required to return to their home country before applying for a work visa or whether they could get guest-worker status without leaving the U.S. The second, more lenient option has been attacked by the Minutemen and other conservative groups as tantamount to amnesty.
Until Congress decides, the Minutemen are likely to keep showing up at labor centers to take pictures, and the immigrants will keep coming to look for jobs. What happens between them will continue to make witnesses queasy, not just because of the looming risk of violence but also because of a sense that the system is badly broken. "This is America," says Keenan Strand, owner of the McDonald's restaurant across the street from the Macehualli center. "You can't just walk up to someone with brown skin, photograph them and demand their papers." For now, it appears, you can.