Vigilantes Are Capturing Asylum Seekers And Turning Them Over To Border Patrol
Date Posted: Friday, April 19th, 2019
A militia group near the US-Mexico border detained hundreds of people this week, New Mexico's attorney general told CNN.
"My office has been informed that this week, an armed group has detained nearly 300 people near Sunland Park, New Mexico," Attorney General Hector Balderas said in a written statement. "These individuals should not attempt to exercise authority reserved for law enforcement."
Videos posted online purportedly showing migrants held by the United Constitutional Patriots group and handed over to the US Border Patrol drew swift condemnation from the American Civil Liberties Union of New Mexico.
"We cannot allow racist and armed vigilantes to kidnap and detain people seeking asylum," the ACLU said in a letter to state authorities denouncing the actions and asking the government to step in. "We urge you to immediately investigate this atrocious and unlawful conduct."
CNN is reaching out to the United Constitutional Patriots for comment.
The New York Times reported that a spokesman for the militia group said their actions were legal, "comparing the detention of the migrants to 'a verbal citizen's arrest.'"
Governor's office calls threatening migrants 'unacceptable'
A statement on the United Constitutional Patriots' Facebook page describes the group as "Americans that believe in the constitution and the rights of every American that will stand up for there rights in unity and help keep America safe."
"We're just here to support the Border Patrol and show the public the reality of the border," spokesman Jim Benvie told The New York Times, noting that his group had been camped near El Paso for the past two months.
Benvie's group "plans to remain on the border until the extended wall proposed by President Trump is built or Congress changes immigration laws to make it harder for migrants to request asylum," the Times reported.
Various private militia groups -- often espousing anti-immigrant views -- have patrolled the border for years.
But it's rare to see a video of an armed group detaining migrants on the US side of the border.
A spokesman for New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham said state and local authorities are looking into the matter.
"They have absolutely not been authorized by our office or any other. We are actively working with the AG's Office, state police and local police to determine what has gone on and what can and will be done," said Tripp Stelnicki, a spokesman for the governor. "That migrant families might be menaced or threatened in any way, shape or form is completely unacceptable."
CBP says it doesn't condone civilians interfering in law enforcement matters
Asked about the United Constitutional Patriots and the videos the group has posted online, a US Customs and Border Protection spokesman declined to comment on the group itself or the social media posts, but said the agency "does not endorse or condone private groups or organizations taking enforcement measures into their own hands."
"Interference by civilians in law enforcement matters could have public safety and legal consequences for all parties involved," the spokesman said in a written statement, referring those who suspect illegal activity to call 911 or contact the agency directly. "Border Security operations are complex and require highly trained professionals with adequate resources to protect the country."
Peter Simonson, executive director for the ACLU of New Mexico, told CNN that while militia groups have patrolled near the border before, now such groups feel empowered by the rhetoric they hear from the White House.
"We concede that these groups have a freedom to associate, to assemble, freedom to speech and our state gun laws do give them ability to carry weapons," Simonson said. But the ACLU's key concern, he said, is that private armed citizens are "taking it upon themselves to carry out justice and not allowing federal authorities to do their job."
"These people are armed, their intentions are misguided and they certainly don't have training, much less any authority, to be conducting arrests and long-term detentions of people coming across the border," Simonson said. "We are concerned this is such a potentially explosive situation, we are worried someone is going to get hurt."
Date Posted: Friday, April 19th, 2019 , Total Page Views: 907