In a virtual press conference Wednesday, the Southern Poverty Law Center—a civil rights organization—detailed a series of its reports on extremist vigilante groups that are allegedly targeting migrants and harassing humanitarian organizations near the U.S.-Mexico border in Pima County.
The SPLC says through a review of social media and visits to communities near the border, it has learned the vigilante militia groups are trying to intimidate migrants and assist U.S. Customs and Border Protection in handling the increase in illegal migrant crossings in recent years.
The reports say the militias have been around for years but have grown since 2020, fueled by far-right conspiracy theories.
“A lot of the migrants are trafficking children, that they’re drug traffickers, organ harvesters,” said Freddy Cruz of SPLC, listing some of those theories that he described as ‘basically QAnon.’
“So the recurring theme that you see with a lot of these groups is the ‘Save the Children’ narrative,” Cruz said, while acknowledging, “Of course human trafficking is a huge issue, but a lot these groups are operating on the premise that they’re saving Americans.”
The reports say the groups detain migrants and call CBP to pick them up, as well as damage migrant water stations set up by organization Humane Borders to help those who do cross the border at least survive the treacherous journey through the desert.
The groups are also accused of setting up decoy water stations in remote areas to lure migrants in before intercepting them.
“They stalk sometimes, some of the migrants who are coming,” Journalist and ‘SPLC’ podcast host Jamila Paksima said of the vigilante groups. “They put out cameras to watch them in the middle of the night and track them. Sometimes they invite groups of militia members form other states to join them.”
Article II of the Arizona Constitution states, “The right of the individual citizen to bear arms in defense of himself or the state shall not be impaired, but nothing in this section shall be construed as authorizing individuals or corporations to organize, maintain, or employ an armed body of men.”
SPLC also accuses CBP officers of being negligent or implicitly supporting the militia groups by interacting with them and not reporting them to local law enforcement.
“It does appear that a lot of these border patrol agents have been aware of the situation that’s been going on at the border but nothing has actually been done about it,” Cruz said. “That’s basically i think the core issue here is nobody seems to want to take any accountability for what’s happening right now.”
A Pima County Sheriff’s Department spokesperson said that Sheriff Chris Nanos has no comment on the reports.
CBP released a statement to KGUN 9 responding to the reports:
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