Members of a local militia in New Mexico apparently decided to take matters into their own hands regarding this nation’s immigration policy and detained a group of asylum seekers at gunpoint before turning them over to U.S. Border Patrol.
Video posted online by a group calling itself United Constitutional Patriots show armed militia members, wearing gloves and black face masks (of course), stopping migrants, including families with children, as they crossed the border into the U.S. from Mexico.
A spokesman for the group in an interview with the New York Times, calls its members’ actions legal, likening them to “a verbal citizen’s arrest.”
The American Civil Liberties Union of New Mexico calls it “kidnapping,” and it’s demanding that state and federal officials put a stop to it.
“We cannot allow racist and armed vigilantes to kidnap and detain people seeking asylum,” two lawyers for the ACLU, María Martínez Sánchez and Kirsten Greer Love, said in a letter to New Mexico’s governor and attorney general, the New York Times reports.
As CNN reports, the videos posted by the group show that not only were the militia members armed, they were dressed in fatigues, and in at least one instance, a member identified himself as “Border Patrol.”:
They show people often in full military fatigues, with handguns strapped to their sides, wearing gloves and black face masks. Armed men order migrants to stop, force them to sit on the ground and then apparently call Border Patrol to pick them up. At least two videos posted on the group’s Facebook page depict a man in fatigues verbally identifying himself as “Border Patrol” as he stops a group of migrants.
A U.S. Customs and Border Protection spokesman told CNN it does not condone the militia’s actions, nor does the agency have any relationship with the group. Both the offices of New Mexico’s governor and attorney general said the same.
“These individuals should not attempt to exercise authority reserved for law enforcement,” New Mexico Attorney General Hector Balderas said in a statement to the Times.
But the ACLU of New Mexico blames the virulent anti-immigrant rhetoric coming from Donald Trump and his administration for emboldening groups like the militia. As ACLU of New Mexico Executive Director Peter Simonson told CNN:
“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.”