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Armed citizen groups seek recruits to secure U.S. border

border patrol
border patrol

By Lisa Maria Garza

DALLAS (Reuters) - Citizen groups in border states are seeking armed volunteers to patrol the U.S.-Mexico frontier alongside law enforcement officers who are struggling to deal with a surge of undocumented migrants from Central America.

Southwestern states have seen a big influx of arrivals this year that has put a strain on the U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) agency.

Anti-illegal immigration groups have turned to social media, blogs and 24-hour hotlines in the hope of recruiting thousands of volunteers to help out.

Federal authorities say they do not support any private group taking matters into their own hands, and say it could have "disastrous" consequences.

The activists say their efforts are needed because the federal government has failed to secure the border.

In a web posting on Thursday, The Minuteman Project, led by former U.S. Marine Jim Gilchrist, said it will take 10 months to organize the launch of "Operation Normandy."

The group said it expected to attract 3,500 armed citizen volunteers to cover sections of the 2,000-mile (3,200-km) U.S. border from San Diego, California, via Arizona and New Mexico to Brownsville, Texas.

Unlike the Normandy invasion of France in 1944, Gilchrist said, the group's members will not leave home soil.

"We are not going to the border to invade anyone. We are going there to stop an invasion," he wrote online.

The Minutemen first hit the headlines in 2005 when members camped out in lawn chairs in southern Arizona to spot undocumented migrants crossing from Mexico.

Meanwhile, another group whose members are known as "Patriots" are organizing military-style operations and appealing for donations of gear, including night-vision equipment, via the website PatriotsInformationHotline.com.

According to the site, they have currently have four operations deployed along the border in Texas, and a further three "troops" on the ground in Arizona.

"We need to save America. Look to the future. Step up NOW!!" reads one call to action on the website.

Many of the new arrivals are youngsters: more than 52,000 children traveling alone from Central America have been caught at the U.S.-Mexico border since October, double the number from the same period the year before.

U.S. immigration officials say the crisis is driven by poverty, gangs and drug violence in Central America as well as rumors spread by smugglers that children who reach U.S. territory will be allowed to stay.

In a statement, U.S. Customs and Border Protection cautioned that any private group taking matters into their own hands could have "disastrous personal and public safety consequences."

(Reporting by Lisa Maria Garza; Editing by Daniel Wallis and Sandra Maler)

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