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Senate Democrats Demand Biden Investigate Border Paramilitaries

Three Senate Democrats are sounding the alarm about the rise of U.S.-based paramilitaries along the Mexican border and the lack of federal oversight to regulate them.

Senator Ed Markey, Massachusetts; Elizabeth Warren, Massachusetts; and Corey Booker (D-NJ) called on Attorney General Merrick Garland and Secretary of Homeland Security Alejandro Majorcas to “crack down on self-defense groups that undermine the rule of law and the rights and safety of migrants.” Senators’ statement.

“For years, illegal paramilitary organizations have conducted unofficial border missions, reminiscent of Ku Klux Klan border patrols, to illegally detain and prosecute immigrants. These actions undermine the legitimate authority of the government and threaten public safety,” the senators wrote in a letter to Garland and Mallorcas.

“Recently, many paramilitary groups have stepped up their efforts, creating an escalating crisis that should be a priority for both the US Department of Homeland Security and the US Department of Justice.”

The existence of paramilitaries along the US-Mexican border has been a headache for immigrant communities in the region ever since the two countries established a bi-national border, and especially since the annexation of Texas and the Mexican Cession, which established much of the current shared border.

The U.S. Border Patrol itself is a historical offshoot of the Chinese Inspectors, a mounted paramilitary group tasked with enforcing late 19th century racial immigration laws, who often partnered with local and state law enforcement to patrol the border.

The senators have focused their concerns on two groups: Veterans on Patrol (VOP) and Patriots for America (PFA), both of which, senators say, are cooperating with authorities to capture migrants despite not being able to do so. legal authority.

“Since 2021, the VOP has been intercepting unaccompanied minors near the border in Arizona, stalking sponsors in the US, and in some cases confronting or helping others confront sponsors in their homes. The VOP also disguised its desert campsites as water intake stations to mimic campsites put up by religious organizations such as Humane Borders to lure migrants; The VOP then hands them over to the CBP,” the lawmakers wrote.

The Senators cited the Texas ACLU saying that the PFA cooperated with the Kinney County Sheriff’s Office and, at least once, with the Texas National Guard.

“Worryingly, there is also evidence of open cooperation with federal agents. In May 2021, a video was uploaded to Facebook showing a Border Patrol agent meeting VOP members and praising their activities before collecting drone footage,” they wrote.

The modern-day frontier militias rose to prominence in the mid-2000s when a group calling itself the Minuteman Project hit the headlines with both praise and criticism from politicians on both sides of the border before effectively disappearing due to internal strife.

While militias and paramilitary groups have been present along the border throughout its history as a binational demarcation line, defenders fear that angry rhetoric, combined with heavy firepower in private hands and growing migration, could end in tragedy.

“They are a big problem when they detain people and actually do some kind of arrest of citizens, especially when those people are unaccompanied children,” said Adam Isakson, director of defense oversight at the Washington Latin America office.

“A lot of what they do seems to be hiding in the desert and looking cool. The concern is that they might hurt someone,” he added, noting that there is no real effort at the federal, state or local level to “control these guys or even closely monitor what they are doing. “.

“It’s a ‘so many things can go wrong’ kind of situation, but we’re lucky it hasn’t happened yet.”

Stephen Matthew Driscoll, 27, from East El Paso. (El Paso Police Department)

Late last month, a man in El Paso threatened migrants with a gun, causing many to panic.

According to local station KTSM, the man, identified by police as Stephen Driscoll, was later arrested and said he was “doing this for America.”

KTSM and The Hill are owned by Nexstar.

Although organized armed groups have not yet openly attacked migrants, they have been known to sabotage water stations in the desert, and for decades migrant assistance programs have had to work around the presence of the groups to help migrants.

And in 2019, a man who claims to be motivated by a “Hispanic invasion” killed 23 people at a Walmart store in El Paso and injured 23 others in the largest anti-Spanish mass shooting of the 21st century.

The senators have written a long list of requests to the administration, including asking for information about the government’s cooperation with armed groups and militias.

“Official [Border Patrol] Of course, the line in every sector is that “we don’t work with them, we’d rather they weren’t around, but they have a legal right to be where they are,” Isakson said.

“There are cases where individual agents keep in touch with them and act very friendly with them,” he added.

DHS did not immediately respond to a request for comment on this story.

The lawmakers wrote that in the absence of federal action to stop and regulate any illegal activities by militias and any collaborating federal agents, the threat of violence against migrants will continue.

“In the absence of federal action to combat their unauthorized behavior, self-defense groups will continue to operate and weaken the government’s ability to keep migrants safe, protect human rights, and protect the rule of law at the border.”

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