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EVERETT — Nationally, the immigration debate took center stage last week in the U.S. Senate, where sweeping immigration legislation died on Thursday.

But the same debate played out closer to home Saturday, at Rucker Avenue and California Street in Everett.

There, a mixed group of protesters confronted people entering the Elks Lodge to attend an “Illegal Immigration Summit.”

Jim Gilchrist, the summit’s keynote speaker and a founder of the Minuteman Project, parried with maybe a dozen people holding signs supporting immigration and denouncing President Bush.

“No more racism,” they chanted as Gilchrist spoke.

“We’re a multiethnic law-enforcement advocacy group, not a band of racists,” Gilchrist said.

“My son-in-law is Mexican,” Gilchrist said. “He loves me, and he’s on my side.”

Gary Leon Van Horn, an Everett resident and a member of Veterans for Peace, said he found the views of the various Minuteman groups to be hypocritical.

“Before we got here, wasn’t there a group called the indigenous people?” he asked.

The summit was organized by the Reagan Wing and Minutemen American Defense, two groups based in Washington state.

Once inside the summit, various speakers endorsed measures such as:

• No amnesty for illegal immigrants.

• No welfare for illegal immigrants.

• An end to illegal immigrants receiving social services.

• An end to U.S. citizenship as a birthright for children born in the United States to illegal immigrants.

The Reagan Wing’s Web site lists “secure borders” as one of its founding principles. Founded in 2004, the organization says it seeks to reignite “Ronald Reagan’s unfinished revolution.”

“We endeavor to transform and lead the Republican Party, armed with the sword of Truth,” the organization’s site says.

Minutemen American Defense describes its mission as securing the United States “against unlawful and unauthorized entry of all individuals, contraband, and foreign military.”

It was founded by Shawna Forde, an Everett woman currently running for the Everett City Council.

Gilchrist, a retired accountant from Orange County, Calif., and other activists began patrolling the Mexican border two years ago, using ground vehicles, private planes and night-vision goggles to spot illegal immigrants.

President Bush dubbed the patrollers vigilantes, but the Minuteman Project has generated at least 200 spinoff groups.

“We are for an orderly queue, for a prescribed number of legal immigrants to the United States,” Gilchrist said Saturday.

Among the protesters was Luis Moscoso, state secretary for the Washington State Democrats.

“I’m out here because I’m very concerned about local candidates running for office in Everett and Snohomish County who are aligning themselves with right-wing groups like the Minutemen,” he said. “This is a very serious threat, I believe, to democracy.”

Among those attending the summit were Tom Greene, a candidate for Snohomish County sheriff, and Doug Roulstone, a candidate for Congress in District 2.

Presidential candidate Rep. Duncan Hunter, R-Calif., spoke to the group by phone and took questions. He vowed to build a fence along the U.S.-Mexico border if he wins.

Earlier this year, Gilchrist was fired from the national Minuteman Project amid allegations from three board members that he had misused $400,000 in donations.

Gilchrist denied the accusations and filed a lawsuit against the group’s leadership.

But he dropped the suit in April and continues to call himself the group’s president, saying the others didn’t have the power to fire him.

Saturday’s summit was held two days after immigration legislation that would have coupled tough border-enforcement measures with a pathway to citizenship for 12 million illegal immigrants died in the U.S. Senate.

Ken Armstrong: 206-464-3730 or karmstrong@seattletimes.com

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