SAN DIEGO—When a president turns the immigration debate into a circus, we should expect there to be clowns.
And that’s what we have in New Mexico, where border vigilantes eager to play cops and refugees have spent the last two months rounding up desperate folks at gunpoint and detaining them until the U.S. Border Patrol arrives.
Think on that. Here you have people who ran for their lives, oftentimes with their children, and traveled hundreds of miles from Honduras, Guatemala, and El Salvador to the U.S.-Mexico border. The main reason they did so was because, back home, they were terrorized by bullies and creeps with guns. And upon arrival, who is there to greet them? Bullies and creeps with guns.
It’s obviously dangerous to have vigilantes running roughshod in remote areas along the U.S.-Mexico border, far from traditional forms of accountability.
But, in the Trump era, it’s not surprising. One predictable consequence of the commander in chief trivializing his responsibility to protect the country by rhetorically fabricating a full-blown “invasion” on the U.S.-Mexico border is that such hyperbole invites every Tom, Dick, and Julio to take up arms.
More than a third of Americans–35 percent—say that illegal immigration at the U.S.-Mexico border is now a “crisis,” according to a recent Washington Post-ABC News poll. That figure is up from the 24 percent who saw a crisis in January. And the sharpest increase is with Democrats who seem newly “woke” to what Republicans have been claiming for years; 24 percent of Democrats say there’s a crisis on the border, compared to just 7 percent a few months ago. An even larger number–45 percent–of respondents didn’t use the word “crisis” but did consider illegal immigration a serious problem. Only 18 percent saw little or no problem.
Clearly, many Americans want a firmer hand in border enforcement, and some of them are even willing to lend a hand to help fend off invaders.
But what happens when the invading army is made up not of soldiers and warriors but largely of women and children who only want asylum from a country that is supposed to take them in?
One thing that should not happen is exactly what is occurring near Sunland Park, New Mexico, a small border town located in the southwestern part of the state.
Home to just over 15,000 people, Sunland Park has—since late February—been battling an infestation. A pesky swarm of right-wing vigilantes and militia members calling themselves the United Constitutional Patriots (UCP) have descended on the border for do-it-yourself immigration enforcement. They rotate in shifts, with about a half dozen “on duty” at any given time. Judging from videos taken by militia members and posted online, they wear camouflage and seem to know just enough Spanish phrases to bark commands at the migrants to “sit down” or “get up” or “come here”—all at gunpoint. Once detained, the migrants wait passively until Border Patrol agents arrive to cart them away. A few of them smile nervously, while clutching their children. Some invasion.
The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) has accused the group of unlawfully detaining migrants. In fact, some call that sort of thing “kidnapping,” and the practice is illegal. So, in other words, we have a group of lawbreakers who claim they’re trying preserve the rule of law. Don’t you just love irony?
New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham, a Democrat, has launched a formal investigation into the group’s activities, and state police have told the group to disperse. But the militia appears to be digging in, and its leaders have even threatened to sue the state for violating their rights.
That’s perfect. The American battle cry really has gone from “Give me liberty, or give me death” to “Hey pal, talk to my lawyer.”
You know who could really use a lawyer? Larry Hopkins, aka Johnny Horton. He is listed as the “national commander” of the UPC, and he is also an accused felon who was recently arrested by the FBI on a federal complaint charging him with illegal possession of firearms and ammunition.
Jim Benvie, a spokesman for the UCP told reporters that Hopkins, aka Horton, would beat the rap, and he blamed the arrest on political pressure from Gov. Grisham’s office.
Benvie also said that the UCP has detained more than 5,600 migrants in the last two months, and insisted that it has the support of local police and Border Patrol agents. He described the group as made up of mostly military veterans who carry weapons for the own protection and never point guns at migrants.
But how does he know that? The videos—showing vigilantes with white skins shouting commands at people in brown skin while treating other human beings like animals on a cattle drive—appear to tell a different story. Besides, “never” is a big word. What happens on the border, often stays on the border.
In a statement, U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) said that it did not support citizens taking matters into their own hands and instead asked the public to simply be its eyes and ears. It’s the border version of the anti-terrorism mantra that emerged after the Sept 11th attacks: “If you see something, say something.”
Yet it’s clear Border Patrol agents are content with this lawless status quo that lets them play dumb and have it both ways. They get to pretend to be high-minded, but they also get to collect the bounty to help make their quota.
Speaking of dumb, let’s not forget President Trump who—along with certain White House advisers and cabinet officials—goes around recklessly lighting rhetorical fires and then acts surprised when there is a stampede. Or, in this case, a mad dash to the border.
As for the vigilantes, these gun-toting yahoos need to be immediately run off the border. And if they resist they need to be arrested and put in a jail cell. We can’t have anarchy, and defiance of law enforcement, on the U.S.-Mexico border. Someone is going to get killed.
But all is not lost. Thanks in part to illegal immigrant labor, it’s a strong economy with plenty of jobs available. These folks can always apply, go through the training and work up the sweat to become Border Patrol agents.
That is, if they can pass the psych exam.