The United Constitutional Patriots released a video of militia members holding over 200 migrants at gunpoint before handing them off to Border Patrol.
The American Civil Liberties Union is demanding an investigation into a New Mexico militia that’s been detaining groups of migrant families along the border.
Members of the group, which calls itself the United Constitutional Patriots, wear military-style uniforms and carry semi-automatic rifles. The militia has recently begun recording its mass arrests, with several videos published within the past week.
In one encounter, described by the New York Times, members stopped and held a group of about 200 migrants who’d just crossed the U.S.-Mexico border near Sunland Park. Most were prospective asylum-seekers; footage shows a mass of exhausted-looking migrant families, squinting in the glare of spotlights.
The migrants were later turned over to federal immigration authorities.
While the United Constitutional Patriots says it’s exercising a right similar to citizen’s arrest, the ACLU has called its tactics tantamount to kidnapping.
“We cannot allow racist and armed vigilantes to kidnap and detain people seeking asylum,” the ACLU wrote in a letter to New Mexico state authorities. “We urge you to immediately investigate this atrocious and unlawful conduct.”
A recent statement from state Attorney General Hector Balderas, republished by CNN, is critical of the group’s unauthorized detentions.
“My office has been informed that this week, an armed group has detained nearly 300 people near Sunland Park, New Mexico,” Balderas wrote. “These individuals should not attempt to exercise authority reserved for law enforcement.”
CNN also reprinted an excerpt from the group’s Facebook page. The United Constitutional Patriots described themselves as “Americans that believe in the Constitution and the rights of every American that will stand up for there [sic] rights in unity and help keep America safe.”
“We’re just here to support the Border Patrol and show the public the reality of the border,” UCP spokesman Jim Benvie told the New York Times.
According to CNN, armed militias have patrolled the border for years. However, it’s not common to find footage of these kinds of groups performing arrests or handing migrants over to authorities.
A spokesperson for New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham said authorities will investigate.
“They have absolutely not been authorized by our office or any other,” said Trip Stelnicki. “We are actively working with the AG’s Office, state police and local police to determine what has gone on and what can and will be done.
“That migrant families might be menaced or threatened in any way, shape or form is completely unacceptable,” Stelnicki added.
The ACLU believes the uptick in militia activity—and the Patriots’ publication of controversial footage—is a consequence of the White House’s heavy-handed and often harsh immigration policy.
“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,” ACLU-New Mexico executive director Peter Simonson told CNN. But the ACLU is disturbed that a private militia has taken “it upon themselves to carry out justice,” 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.”