PHOENIX — Michelle Dallacroce has 4,997 unread e-mails, is late to a meeting and needs to pick up her daughter from elementary school, but here she is, counting day laborers.
"Look, they're over there!" she says as she steers her Lexus SUV through her neighborhood. "That one's under the trees! My children have to see this." Her outrage rising, Dallacroce takes a detour, stopping at a retirement home to distribute fliers for her new group, Mothers Against Illegal Aliens.
In contrast to the coordinated pro-immigration rallies across the country, hundreds of grass-roots activists such as Dallacroce are veering in different directions as they try to influence Congress to crack down on illegal immigration.
They are picketing Mexican consulates; they're building a barbed wire fence on the border and phoning lawmakers to protest legislation that would allow illegal immigrants to stay in the U.S. They have sponsored anti-illegal immigrant initiatives in Colorado and Phoenix. In recent weeks, they have staged demonstrations in cities in the Midwest and Southwest that have drawn a couple of hundred protesters each.
Although they aren't turning out hundreds of thousands of demonstrators, activists say public sentiment is on their side.
"The people who are against illegal immigration tend not to be the people who march," said Ira Mehlman of the Federation for American Immigration Reform, or FAIR, which seeks tighter immigration restrictions. "They're the people who call their congressman, then show up to vote."
In Los Angeles, Bill King, a retired senior Border Patrol agent, started a political action committee in January to back candidates who are tough on illegal immigration. "As a citizen of this country, I am fed up with the inaction of this Congress and this president," King said. "I'm not a radical. All I want is for them to enforce the law."
Activists who take the toughest stance against illegal immigration have formed too many groups to count, and more seem to crop up every week. Many are run by only a handful of people, but count e-mail lists in the thousands. There's Mid-America Immigration Reform Coalition in Kansas City, Mo. Californians for Population Stabilization. Friends of the Border Patrol in Covina. Wake Up America Foundation in Las Vegas. Colorado Alliance for Immigration Reform. Northern Coloradans for Immigration Reduction. The American Resistance Foundation in Georgia.
Sometimes they don't even have a name. Silvio Cipro, a Denver-area salesman, decided last fall to urge people online to send letters to President Bush calling for tougher border security and enforcement of immigration laws. His goal is 5 million letters.
"I get calls from people all over the country who are desperate to organize but don't know how to do it," Cipro said.
People like Cipro are struggling against a movement for amnesty that is backed by labor unions, religious leaders and business groups.
"What's striking about the 'anti' forces is they're not institutional," said Rob Paral, a research fellow for the American Immigration Law Foundation in Washington, an association of immigration lawyers. "They are largely unorganized -- or not organized at the national level in the way they would like to think."
The most visible, the Minutemen, is building a fence on private land along the border with Mexico. On Wednesday, the group began a cross-country tour to demand tougher immigration controls.
Dallacroce, 40, formed Mothers Against Illegal Aliens in January -- two months after attending a Minutemen protest against a day laborer pickup site at a Home Depot. She and several friends run the group.
Dallacroce is brimming with ideas and has shared them on Fox News, MSNBC and CNN. She wants to challenge the law that grants automatic citizenship to children born to illegal immigrants in the U.S. She's considering boycotts of Tyson, McDonald's and other companies that she says employ illegal aliens. She's gathering signatures for a ballot initiative -- sponsored by another activist -- that would end Phoenix's ban on its police asking people whether they're in the country legally.
But she mostly collects e-mails from people angered by illegal immigration, and directs them to join the efforts of groups around the country that are sending letters to Congress and deluging elected officials with phone calls arguing against amnesty.
"People in America are crying out," she said, displaying about 200 e-mails she received after Monday's boycott and marches: "In seeing the demonstrations I have felt sooooo angry," one began. Another asked: "What can we do to stop this mess, I just want to slap every politician."