The American Civil Liberties Union is calling the actions a kidnapping and a flagrant violation of the law
Armed rightwing militia members detained a large group of migrants at the US-Mexico border and coordinated with US border patrol agents to have them arrested, according to the American Civil Liberties Union, in a series of actions the civil liberties organization called a kidnapping and a flagrant violation of the law.
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.
The Trump administrations vile racism has emboldened white nationalists and fascists to flagrantly violate the law, the ACLU of New Mexico said in a letter to the states governor and attorney general, urging them to immediately investigate this atrocious and unlawful conduct.
The ACLU described the group as an armed fascist militia organization made up of vigilantes working to kidnap and detain people seeking asylum and accused the group of directly making illegal arrests.
The group has repeatedly appeared in local news stories in recent weeks, expressing support for Donald Trumps proposed border wall and presenting themselves as volunteers aiding border patrol efforts.
In recent years, there has been a reported surge in paramilitary groups and xenophobic activists having a presence at the border in an effort to target undocumented people.
The United Constitutional Patriots posted several live-stream Facebook videos this week that appeared to detail their activities at the border.
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: Theres no border patrol here. This is us.
Its difficult to decipher exactly whats 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.
The ACLUs letter said the group was targeting nearly 300 migrants in Sunland Park, New Mexico, which is along the Mexico border and adjacent to El Paso, Texas. In the video, the migrants sitting on the ground said they came from Guatemala. Benvie mirrored Trumps anti-immigrant language in his videos, saying, This is an invasion. Gotta build the wall.
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, Ive got seven over here.
Theres very dangerous people here. Thats the reason we carry guns, Benvie narrated on the video just before encountering the group. This is why were here, guys. Cause theres no border patrol.
Benvie did not respond to a request for comment.
US Customs and Border Protection (CBP) declined to answer specific questions about the militia group and its actions, but a spokesperson said in an email that CBP does not endorse private groups or organizations taking enforcement matters into their own hands, adding, Interference by civilians in law enforcement matters could have public safety and legal consequences for all parties involved.
The CBP statement continued: Border Patrol welcomes assistance from the community and encourages anyone who witnesses or suspects illegal activity to call 911.
Peter Ibaro, a spokesman for the city of Sunland Park, was dismissive of concerns about the militia group violating laws.
As far as we know, they are just observing and reporting, he told the Guardian, saying, I think they are just out there exercising their constitutional right.