A group of right-wing vigilantes have begun detaining migrant families at gunpoint on the border in New Mexico before giving them to Border Control officials, The New York Times reports. Members of the group call themselves the United Constitutional Patriots and have filmed and posted to social media their recent actions, including holding a group of 200 migrant men, women, and children at gunpoint at the border near Sunland Park, New Mexico. The asylum-seekers moved quietly and appeared exhausted.
Right-wing militia groups have long patrolled the border attempting to stop undocumented migrants from entering the United States. But the detainment of nonviolent families who can legally request asylum and are cooperative with Border Patrol has drawn attention from human rights activists around the world and particularly in the West.
In a letter on Thursday, the American Civil Liberties Union denounced the militia and requested that the governor and attorney general of New Mexico investigate the group. The Untied Constitutional Patriots has no legal approval to arrest or detain anyone in the United States, the ACLU said.
“We cannot allow racist and armed vigilantes to kidnap and detain people seeking asylum,” Two ACLU lawyers, María Martínez Sánchez and Kirsten Greer Love, wrote in the letter.
Mexico's attorney general, Hector Balderas, responded in a statement, “These individuals should not attempt to exercise authority reserved for law enforcement.”
A spokesman for the United Constitutional Patriots said that the group has been based near El Paso over the last two months. Jim Benvie, 43, recently came from Minnesota to New Mexico and argued that his group's detentions were legal and comparable to "a verbal citizen's arrest."
“We’re just here to support the Border Patrol and show the public the reality of the border,” Benvie said. He said that the group intends to stay in place until President Trump's extended wall proposal is erected, or until Congress makes it more difficult for migrants to seek asylum.
“If these people follow our verbal commands, we hold them until Border Patrol comes,” Mr. Benvie said. “Border Patrol has never asked us to stand down.”
New Mexico governor Michelle Lujan Grisham called said that it is "completely unacceptable" that families “might be menaced or threatened in any way, shape or form when they arrive at our border.”
In the video released by the group this week, border patrol agents arrived after militia members already found the asylum seekers. But before officials arrived, a woman tells a militia member not to "aim the gun" at the families.