Anti-illegal-crosser Web site takes tips - for 99-cent fee 
In the cat-and-mouse game between border agents and illegal crossers, another would-be player is adding fuel to the volatile debate on illegal immigration with a new Web site that charges users a fee to turn people in.
But an organizer with an immigrant-advocacy group in Tucson said, the latest Internet Web site to take money from surfers who report people living in the country illegally, promotes an us-versus-them scenario that is mean-spirited and divisive.
Kat Rodriguez, of the Coalición de Derechos Humanos, said that while there's plenty of room for a healthy discussion of immigration policies, "it's dangerous when you start having this mentality that we're supposed to be spying on each other."
The Running Springs, Calif., Web site, which started operating about a month ago, charges 99 cents for every tip submitted. It also gets $3 for every referral to, a sister Web site that earlier began charging $10 per tip. The Florida site then turns over the information in a formal complaint to various law-enforcement agencies. creator Jim Wood said he is not out to make money but to pressure federal agencies to crack down on illegal entrants across the U.S.-Mexican border.
Immigration authorities - which historically have relied on tips from citizens to detain and deport illegal border-crossers - and a national anti-illegal-immigration group expressed reservations about
Russell Ahr, a spokesman with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, said his agency does not endorse either Web site. "We've got our own tip line that people can use for free," he said.
Meanwhile, Ira Mehlman, a spokesman for the anti-illegal-immigration Federation for American Immigration Reform, said that while people should have the right to report those who cross the border illegally, they shouldn't have to pay for providing the information.
But Mehlman said he understands how the Web sites may be taking advantage of people's frustrations. "The Department of Homeland Security ought to have a better system in place to allow ordinary citizens to report suspected violations of our immigration laws. … Very often people make a report and nothing happens."
The 40-year-old Wood agreed. "The government doesn't do its job, so we had to build a Web site."
He blames an array of societal and economic ills - including overcrowded schools - on the country's illegal-immigrant population. Various estimates put that number between 8 million and 10 million.
"With increased complaint volume and pressure on Washington, we hope to increase momentum until resolution is obtained," Wood's site states. Any profits will be used for his Web site and to help politicians who fight illegal immigration, he added.
As of Thursday, Wood said, users from different states had posted 30 to 40 tips about suspected illegal border-crossers or companies that illegally employ them.
Although Wood said he can't guarantee the validity of the tips submitted, he posts them on his Web site before forwarding them to the customs agency. To guard against receiving false information, Wood said, the site is filled with disclaimers and each complaint requires a credit card or bank account number for easy tracking.
"People know that they can be sued for posting frivolous information," he said. No one at, which states tipsters can remain anonymous, could be reached to comment.
Contrary to, which focuses on information leading to illegal entrants, Wood's also posts a state-by-state directory of companies dubbed "bad employers" because of complaints lodged against them. On the list are the names and addresses of more than 500 Tucson businesses, mostly restaurants, hotels and janitorial services.
Wood said the directory is part of a federal database of employers investigated for hiring illegal workers, and his Web site encourages a boycott of those companies even though the postings lack specific information. Wood said he plans to keep track online of the disposition of new leads turned over to Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
U.S. customs and Border Patrol officials said they haven't noticed a rise in tips coming from either Web site, but added that Internet complaints would get treated no faster or slower than those from any other source. They said valid leads are vigorously pursued by agents.
Michael Gilhooly, a customs agency spokesman, said the agency routinely gets immigration-related tips it evaluates and investigates according to certain criteria. High-priority leads involve suspected terrorists, criminals and those who exploit illegal border-crossers.
"The public does not have to worry about our motivation," Gilhooly said. "Our motivation is to enforce the country's immigration laws."
In fiscal 2004, which ended in September, the centralized customs agency tip line, 1-866-DHS2ICE, received more than 27,000 leads, Gilhooly said.
Gilhooly said because the leads are referred to field offices across the country, it is difficult to track how many citizen tips lead to arrests and deportations.
Jose Garza, a spokesman for the Border Patrol's Tucson Sector, said the agency each month receives 300 to 500 phone tips - many of them anonymous.
"We respond to most all of them," Garza said.
Still, Wood said he plans to be a thorn in the side of immigration authorities until enforcement is toughened.
● Contact reporter Lourdes Medrano at 573-4347 or