Militia group in New Mexico draws scrutiny for detaining migrants at border

A right-wing militia group has begun stopping migrant families at gunpoint in southern New Mexico and detaining them before U.S. Border Patrol agents arrive, The New York Times reported Friday.

The group, which calls itself United Constitutional Patriots, has recently filmed their detention of migrants and uploaded the footage on social media, prompting pushback from the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU).


The ACLU denounced the actions, saying the militia is operating without state or federal authority to arrest or detain migrants.

The militia group rounded up nearly 200 migrants who had recently crossed the border near Sunland Park, N.M. The group was reportedly exhausted from their journey to the U.S. and was attempting to seek asylum, the Times reported.

The ACLU penned a letter asking New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan GrishamMichelle Lynn Lujan GrishamNew Mexico governor settles with former campaign aide over claim of unwanted sexual behavior New Mexico governor signs marijuana legalization bill New Mexico ends qualified immunity MORE (D) to address the situation.

“We cannot allow racist and armed vigilantes to kidnap and detain people seeking asylum,” ACLU lawyers said in the letter to Lujan Grisham and the state Attorney General Hector Balderas.

Lujan Grisham said it is "completely unacceptable” that migrant families “might be menaced or threatened in any way, shape or form when they arrive at our border.”

“It should go without saying that regular citizens have no authority to arrest or detain anyone,” she said in a statement.

The Hill has reached out to the governor for comment.

Jim Benvie, a spokesman for the United Constitutional Patriots, told the Times that their actions were legal.

“We can't make them stay if they don't want to,” Benvie said, comparing the detention of migrants to a “verbal citizen’s arrest." 

“If these people follow our verbal commands, we hold them until Border Patrol comes,” Benvie told The Times. “Border Patrol has never asked us to stand down.”

Carlos A. Diaz, a spokesman for Customs and Border Protection, declined to comment to the Times on the incident with the militia group but added that the federal agency “does not endorse private groups or organizations taking enforcement matters into their own hands."