Dems criticize 'lawless' Texas militias

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Texas Democrats are pushing back against armed militias gathering at the southern border.

In a letter to Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott, the lawmakers warn that the presence of the vigilantes — many clad in military-style fatigues and carrying assault rifles — will only exacerbate the problems facing authorities, as they try to manage the wave of child migrants who have crossed into the state in recent months.

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“These lawless militias could worsen an already difficult situation by promoting violence against minors who are seeking refuge and fleeing violent situations in their home countries,” the Democrats wrote Wednesday. “Furthermore, the actions of these militia groups perpetuate the stigma that the border is a war zone, which is certainly not the case, and only continues to hurt the economic potential of an important area of our state.”

Warning that the “silence” from state officials on the issue lends “credence” to the militia's activities, the lawmakers want Abbott to crack down on the groups.

“[T]he state of Texas has yet to condemn the lawless and hostile actions of these groups,” the lawmakers wrote. “As the highest ranking executive with law enforcement responsibility, we hereby request that you denounce the actions of these militia groups and clarify the jurisdiction these militia groups have to patrol alongside local law enforcement and Border Patrol agents.”

The letter was endorsed by all of Congress's Texas Democrats: Reps. Sheila Jackson Lee, Lloyd Doggett, Al Green, Rubén Hinojosa, Beto O'Rourke, Joaquín Castro, Eddie Bernice Johnson, Pete Gallego, Henry Cuellar, Marc Veasey, Gene Green and Filemon Vela.

At least three different militia groups — the Oathkeepers, the Three Percenters and the Patriots — have formed teams along the southern border in Texas's Rio Grande Valley in recent weeks, according to a number of local reports. 

In photos supplied by the groups to the San Antonio Express-News, dozens of members of the groups are seen patrolling the border wearing masks and fatigues while carrying military-style semi-automatic rifles.

The paper reported that Chris Davis, commander of the Patriots' border operation, has described the groups' strategy in a YouTube video: 

“How?” Davis asks. “You see an illegal. You point your gun dead at him, right between his eyes, and you say, 'Get back across the border or you will be shot.’ ”

The video has since been deleted.

Texas Gov. Rick Perry (R) has announced a plan to send as many as 1,000 National Guard troops to his state's border. Their focus, he has emphasized, will not be on the child migrants but on drug smugglers and other criminal elements operating there.

The militia groups, however, contend Perry's strategy falls far short of number of troops needed to patrol the long Texas border, which runs for nearly 2,000 miles and consists of 15 counties.

Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officials are both aware and wary of the militias activities, according to the McAllen Monitor.

“Securing our nation's borders can be dangerous,” CBP spokesman Rick Pauza told the Monitor. “Interdicting narcotics and deterring and apprehending individuals illegally entering the United States requires highly-trained, law enforcement personnel.”

Congress's Texas Democrats, though, want state officials also to get more aggressive in confronting the groups.

“We hope that you agree with us that these militant and potentially volatile groups patrolling the border are not in the best interest of Texas,” the Democrats wrote to Abbott.