Organizers of the so-called Minuteman Project said the civilian volunteers, many of whom were recruited over the Internet, will meet first for a rally in this one-time silver mining town, then fan out across 23 miles of the San Pedro Valley to watch the border for a month and report sightings of illegal activity to Border Patrol agents.
With the peak border-crossing season about to start, there is pressure for the government to do something. Half of the illegal immigrants arrested last year came through Arizona, CBS News Correspondent Jerry Bowen reports.
Minuteman field operations director Chris Simcox described the project as "the nation's largest neighborhood watch group" and said one of the goals is to make the public aware of how porous the border is.
Jim Gilchrist, a retired accountant from Aliso Viejo, California, who organized the project, said that some volunteers will carry handguns, which is allowed under Arizona law, but are being instructed to avoid confrontation, even if shot at.
Still, law enforcement officials and human rights advocates are worried about the potential for bloodshed.
Critics contend the project may attract anti-immigrant racists and vigilantes looking to confront illegal immigrants. At least one white supremacist group has mentioned the project on its Web site.
"They are domestic terrorists that represent a danger to the country and could promote a major border conflict that will have serious ramifications and consequences," said Armando Navarro, a University of California-Riverside political science professor and coordinator of the National Alliance for Human Rights, made up mostly of Hispanic activists.
Michael Nicley, chief of the U.S. Border Patrol's Tucson sector, said the volunteers are "not the kind of help the Border Patrol is asking for."