A New Mexico militia group posted a video to its Facebook page that shows members detaining dozens of people at the US-Mexico border this week. The live video was shot at night; the person behind the camera can be heard saying, “Holy hell, there are a lot of people here” and “I don’t know if we got them all.” Dozens of people can be seen on the ground, sitting quietly, sometimes breaking the silence by chatting in Spanish.
The group’s page features other videos and photos in which its members detain immigrants while armed. According to CNN, authorities are currently investigating the militia’s videos.
New Mexico’s attorney general, Hector Balderas, released a short statement condemning the group, which calls itself United Constitutional Patriots – New Mexico Border Ops, on Thursday. “These individuals should not attempt to exercise authority reserved for law enforcement.”
The state’s governor, Michelle Lujan Grisham, echoed this sentiment in a statement to the New York Times, saying, “It should go without saying that regular citizens have no authority to arrest or detain anyone.”
Grisham went on to call the militia’s detention of the immigrants “completely unacceptable.”
U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CPB) also put out a statement condemning citizen-led detentions: “#CBP does not endorse or condone private groups or organizations that take enforcement matters into their own hands. Interference by civilians in law enforcement matters could have public safety and legal consequences for all parties involved.”
#CBP does not endorse or condone private groups or organizations that take enforcement matters into their own hands. Interference by civilians in law enforcement matters could have public safety and legal consequences for all parties involved.
— CBP (@CBP) April 19, 2019
One militiaman, who identified himself as a spokesperson for the group, told the New York Times the militia wants to support CBP.
“We’re just here to support the Border Patrol and show the public the reality of the border,” the spokesperson said. “Border Patrol has never asked us to stand down.”
Private militia groups operating along the US-Mexico border are not a new phenomenon. Last year, Newsweek obtained leaked Department of Defense documents that found nearly 200 unregulated armed militia members operating along the US’ southern border. Many of them, work — and behave — as if they are “citizen patrols” supporting the work of the CBP at the border.
Friday, a statement was posted to the United Constitutional Patriots Facebook page defending the group’s detention of immigrants. In the post, the group argued, “Nothing we are doing is illegal or improper.”
However, organizations like the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of New Mexico disagree. Condemning the actions of those taking part of the militia in the video, the organization sent a letter to the governor and attorney general of New Mexico asking them to take swift action against the group.
“The Trump administration’s vile racism has emboldened white nationalists and fascists to flagrantly violate the law,” the ACLU’s letter read. “This has no place in our state: we cannot allow racist and armed vigilantes to kidnap and detain people seeking asylum. We urge you to immediately investigate this atrocious and unlawful conduct.”
Undeterred, the militia posted a note to Facebook Saturday claiming it has been “overwhelmed” by a show of support following the ACLU’s letter. The statement also claimed the militia’s members “are extremely busy with the border situation.”