Downplaying the dangers militias pose carries significant risk — risk that will be borne by vulnerable migrants in remote places in the desert.
By Ryan Devereaux
The Intercept (4/23/19)
LAST WEEK, American vigilantes captured hundreds of migrants — including women and small children — along a darkened stretch of the border in New Mexico. The group, calling itself the United Constitutional Patriots, or UCP, uploaded video of its score to Facebook. Illuminated by the fluorescent glow of flashlights, the shaky footage showed weary mothers, fathers, and toddlers kneeling in the dirt, heads bowed, as the armed men circled around them.
The migrants’ captors summoned the Border Patrol. The agents, once they arrived, offered no sign of concern at the masked men carrying AR-15s decorated with Punisher skulls. For others, however, the footage shot in Sunland Park was a chilling reflection of America in 2019. “We cannot allow racist and armed vigilantes to kidnap and detain people seeking asylum,” American Civil Liberties Union attorneys María Martínez Sánchez and Kristen Greer Love said in a letter. New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham called the vigilante operations “unacceptable” and Democratic Sens. Tom Udall and Martin Heinrich said the UCP’s operations “cannot be tolerated.”
“As young trainees, my colleagues and I were taken to storied places in the desert — a remote pass where earlier generations of agents were rumored to have pushed migrants from clifftops and hidden their corpses, a stretch of road where an agent had run over a Native American lying drunk and asleep on the road, an isolated patch of scrubland where agents had force-fed smugglers fistfuls of marijuana and turned them loose to walk through the wilderness barefoot and stripped to their underwear.”
Customs and Border Protection, the agency that oversees the Border Patrol, provided The Intercept and several other news organizations with the same statement when asked about the militia’s operations:
“U.S. Customs and Border Protection 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. Border Security operations are complex and require highly trained professionals with adequate resources to protect the country. Border Patrol welcomes assistance from the community and encourages anyone who witnesses or suspects illegal activity to call 911, or the U.S. Border Patrol tip line.”
While the government might not “endorse” the activities of border militias, it’s no secret that the “assistance” the Border Patrol “welcomes” has long included those groups. That’s perhaps due to the fact that the very creation of the border, and the genesis of American border policing, is rooted in a deep and bloody tradition of vigilantism.
A History of Frontier Violence
In the summer of 1986, approximately 20 heavily armed men in military fatigues stepped into the darkness of the Arizona desert. It was July Fourth weekend outside the remote border town of Lochiel and the gunmen were on the hunt. They were the Arizona branch of Civilian Materiel Assistance, or CMA, a racist and anti-communist paramilitary outfit that provided mercenary services to the U.S. government and the death squads it backed in Central America. Carrying M-16s and AK-47s, with Israeli night-vision goggles strapped to their heads, the vigilantes soon found what they were looking for: two carloads of Mexican nationals.
J.R. Hagen, the crucifix-wearing Vietnam veteran who led the operation, would later say that the vehicles came to a stop on their own. Other members of his team disagreed …
While Paramilitary Vigilantes Run Free: The Government Is Targeting Immigration Lawyers, Activists & Reporters
By Lauren Carasik
Boston Review (4/24/19)
Immigration attorney Nicole Ramos faces chaotic conditions as she advocates for migrants in Tijuana. Her organization, Al Otro Lado, which advises and represents migrants on both sides of the border, has been at the forefront of efforts to sue the Trump administration for gutting the due-process rights of asylum seekers. Al Otro Lado is housed a stone’s throw from the El Chaparral border crossing, and until recently, Ramos’s work was eased by her SENTRI pass, which allows expedited entry to the United States. Occasional disparaging comments from U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) personnel suggested that Ramos’s advocacy had landed her on their radar, and then, on January 10, 2019, in the midst of the government shutdown, her pass was revoked without explanation.
Al Otro Lado’s suspicion that it has been the target of an intelligence campaign was confirmed when a Homeland Security database of activists and journalists was leaked.
Around the same time, Al Otro Lado’s other codirectors, Erika Pinheiro and Nora Philips, were also harassed while attempting to cross the border. On January 29, Pinheiro was detained for two hours at the Tijuana crossing and then refused entry into Mexico; during the ordeal, she was denied access to attorneys seeking to advocate on her behalf. Mexican authorities detained Phillips at the Guadalajara airport two days later, where she had flown with her husband and their seven-year-old daughter. Mexican officials informed Phillips that there was an alert on her passport and held her for more than nine hours, during which she was denied food and water. The ordeal concluded with her being put on a flight back to the United States.
Given the importance of legal representation in immigration proceedings, the intimidation of immigration attorneys is calamitous to our democratic norms. As the American Immigration Council Reports, “Immigrants with legal counsel were more likely to be released from detention, avoid being removed in absentia, and seek and obtain immigration relief,” among other benefits.
Al Otro Lado’s staff has been under siege in Mexico for more than a year. …