Video Emerges of Armed Militia Members Appearing to Detain Migrants at the Border

Photo: Joe Raedle/Getty

Members of an armed, right-wing militia appear to have detained a large group of migrants on the U.S.-Mexico border this week, according to video that emerged and was reported on by The Guardian and the ACLU.

From The Guardian:

Several videos taken at the border in New Mexico this week appeared to show men belonging to a group that calls itself the United Constitutional Patriots approaching migrant families and children, ordering them to sit down, calling federal agents on them, and at one point potentially misrepresenting themselves by saying “border patrol” as they approached.

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The ACLU described United Constitutional Patriots as “an armed fascist militia organization” who the organization says “kidnap and detain people seeking asylum.”

“The Trump administration’s vile racism has emboldened white nationalists and fascists to flagrantly violate the law,” the ACLU of New Mexico said in a letter sent to the state’s governor and attorney general. The organization urged the state to “immediately investigate this atrocious and unlawful conduct”

The militia movement has grown significantly over the last few years, largely in southern border states, where the groups have targeted undocumented immigrants.

In news reports, members of the armed group called themselves “volunteers” who were aiding border security.

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The ACLU said in their letter that the UCP targeted 300 migrants in Sunland Park, NM this week. The migrants in the video apparently had traveled from Guatemala.

The video that emerged from the UCP came from livestreams on their own Facebook page.

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From The Guardian:

A video posted Monday night by Jim Benvie, a member of the armed group, appeared to show the militia ordering around a large group of migrants, including many children, and telling them to sit on the ground. As he filmed the migrants kneeling in the dirt, Benvie narrated on his video: “There’s no border patrol here. This is us.”

It’s difficult to decipher exactly what’s happening in the dark footage, but border patrol agents eventually appeared in the footage. “We finally got BP here,” Benvie said about six minutes after the footage started. [...]

In another video posted Wednesday, Benvie filmed himself stopping a group of four adults and three children and said “border patrol” to them as he approached, before calling for another member of his group to join. The second man who arrived wearing camouflage pants then ordered the migrants to sit on the ground. The men subsequently appeared to call border patrol, with one saying, “Hello, I’ve got seven over here.”

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In response to The Guardian, Customs and Border Protection said that it “does not endorse private groups or organizations taking enforcement matters into their own hands.”

“Interference by civilians in law enforcement matters could have public safety and legal consequences for all parties involved,” they added. “Border Patrol welcomes assistance from the community and encourages anyone who witnesses or suspects illegal activity to call 911.”

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In an undercover report on the militia movement by Mother Jones, Border Patrol officers were quoted multiple times admiring militias’ work and observed hanging out with them.

And in other reports from Sunland Park, militia members told media that Border Patrol have asked for their help in the past.

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“The Border Patrol asked us to come here. So we decided this is where we’re going to build our base camp and we’ll run it from here,” one militia member told ABC 7 News.

A spokesperson for CBP denied this claim.

The locals in New Mexico, where this militia is staked out, don’t seem particularly worried about an armed paramilitary group camping out in their town.

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“As far as we know, they are just observing and reporting,” Peter Ibaro, a spokesman for Sunland Park, told The Guardian. “I think they are just out there exercising their constitutional right.”

But it’s unclear whether what these militia members are doing is actually legal. Some experts say that their actions could be construed as kidnapping.

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California civil rights lawyer Rachel Lederman says it’s illegal for a private citizen to “interfere with somebody’s freedom of movement.”

“There’s an implied threat with the firearms,” she told The Guardian. adding “It doesn’t seem that hard to prove, especially if they’re broadcasting videos of themselves.”

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Nora Meyers Sackett, a spokesperson for New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham said that they were still working to “verify what exactly happened regarding this group.”

“If migrant families feel menaced or threatened at all when they arrive at our border, that’s completely unacceptable, and it should go without saying that regular citizens have no authority to arrest or detain anyone,” Sackett told The Guardian.

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“These videos are very, very heartbreaking,” Stephanie Corte, an immigrant rights campaign strategist for the ACLU, told The Guardian. “They treat these asylum seekers… as less than human beings. They’re taking away their dignity and terrifying them. They are gathering them all together like they’re animals and holding them there.”

“From the families’ perspective, it’s incredibly traumatizing to have these people who are not law enforcement, who are carrying guns in the middle of the night… rounding them up,” Corte added. She said the state needs to “put an immediate stop to this.”

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