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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Flow of Migrants to U.S. Slowed by Citizen Patrol

AGUA PRIETA, Mexico -- The number of Mexican migrants trying to sneak into the United States through the Arizona border has dropped by half since hundreds of U.S. civilians began guarding the area earlier this week, say Mexican officials assigned to protect their citizens.

But that does not mean the migrants have given up. Most remain determined to cross and say they will simply find alternate routes.

Grupo Beta, a Mexican government-sponsored organization that tries to discourage people from crossing illegally and aids those stranded in the desert, began patrolling the Mexican side of the border along with state police officers on Sunday, when members of the "Minuteman Project" began showing up.

Before the volunteer anti-immigrant watchdogs arrived, Grupo Beta encountered at least 400 migrants daily. On Monday, the second day Minutemen were present on the border, they spotted 198, less than half, said Bertha de la Rosa, Beta coordinator in Agua Prieta, a town in northern Sonora state across the border from Douglas, Arizona.

"The fact that we're not seeing them here doesn't mean they are not trying to cross," de la Rosa said. "They say they will look for another place or wait awhile -- but they are not giving up."

"I'm going to risk it and try somewhere else," said Jose Luis Mercado, a farm worker from central Mexico state, one of 10 migrants who walked through the desert all night Monday and early Tuesday before they were abandoned by the smuggler they had paid to get them across the border. "I have no other option. I want to be able to pay for my children's education so they don't have to go through all this."

Minutemen organizers initially promised that as many as 800 volunteers would participate in the monthlong migrant-monitoring project at one time or another. They say about 480 have shown up thus far. There was no way to independently verify that number. Authorities were not keeping count.

Francisco Garcia, a volunteer for a shelter that houses migrants, said the migrants he has encountered have dismissed the Minutemen simply as "crazy people" -- but for migrants' rights activists the situation is worrisome.

The Minutemen, some of whom are armed, say their purpose is partly to draw attention to the high influx of migrants across the Arizona-Mexico boundary. Of the 1.1 million illegal migrants caught by the U.S. Border Patrol last year, 51 percent crossed into the country at the Arizona border.

But in Mexico and Central America, the volunteers are seen as "hunters of illegals," or "racists" looking to stir up trouble.

In Guatemala, human rights prosecutor Sergio Morales described the Minuteman Project as the "arbitrary hunting" of migrants and asked the United States to guarantee that the rights of migrants from the Central American country would be respected.