Halt to Ariz. Citizen Border Patrols Urged
Immigrants’ rights activists on Wednesday urged Arizona’s incoming governor to stop citizens’ groups that patrol border areas looking for illegal immigrants and smugglers.
Members of the Border Action Network asked Gov.-elect Janet Napolitano to investigate the legality of the armed groups and their actions, which are aimed at curbing illegal border crossings.
“It’s not their job to defend, to harass people, stalk people, injure people. That’s nobody’s job,” said Jennifer Allen, co-director of the Tucson-based organization. “They [illegal immigrants] have civil rights and human rights that take precedence over defending the country.”
There are now at least three citizens’ groups patrolling the Arizona-Mexico border, which has been one of the most active spots in the nation for illegal crossings in the last few years.
In at least one instance, one group seized about 280 pounds of marijuana from smugglers crossing a private ranch.
So far, there has been no known violence linked to the groups. However, officials have warned of the potential for someone to get hurt during encounters between the groups and illegal immigrants or smugglers.
Napolitano’s office received the organization’s report on the patrol groups Wednesday but has yet to review it, said Napolitano spokeswoman Kris Mayes.
“There is no room in Arizona for vigilantism,” said Mayes. “The best thing is to ratchet down the rhetoric. What we need to do is work together for a common solution.”
Human-rights groups, such as the Arizona Civil Liberties Union and the Office of Peace and Justice, are backing activists opposing the actions of the citizens’ groups, as are some local officials and border residents.
“We are a government of law,” said Pamela K. Sutherland, legal director of the Arizona Civil Liberties Union. “The vigilantism and lawlessness they [citizen militias] represent cannot be tolerated, and we won’t let their behavior go unchecked.”
Members of the groups said Wednesday that they have taken defensive measures because law enforcement has failed them.
“Citizens would not feel they have to do this if our elected officials were doing their job in providing security,” said Chris Simcox, organizer of a militia called Civil Homeland Defense.
“We are humans who understand the plight of people who are fleeing Mexico, but it is not a situation we will tolerate.”
Southern Arizona rancher Roger Barnett said he patrols his land to protect against people who are breaking the law. Barnett has on occasion confronted illegal immigrants and held them for authorities.