Border militia: patriots or vigilantes?
Some people living near the US-Mexico border feel the government is not addressing their security concerns and feel it is their duty to take action. Critics fear Senate Bill 1083 could give vigilantes a free pass to take the law into their own hands.
The line dividing Arizona and Mexico is closely watched by US Border Patrol. Armed with military equipment, federal agents attempt to keep the peace, but for some living in the scenic desert region, there is no peace.
“What we are seeing on the Arizona border is an insurgency,” said Jack Foote from the Arizona State Defense Force Foundation.
The perceived threat of cartel violence spilling over from Mexico has led to a proposal for a new border militia.
The US-Mexico border is one of the most heavily fortified in the world. Evidence shows that the Obama administration has spent a large amount of federal dollars to help secure the border, but to some that still is not enough.
The proposed Special Missions Unit would allow armed volunteers to pursue and arrest people they suspect to be smugglers or undocumented immigrants.
“Arizona as a state is taking control of its destiny, whether or not the government agrees that we have the right,” said Foote.
But many others in Arizona question the purpose of the Special Missions Unit and how it will be held accountable. Not only will volunteers be allowed to pursue suspected criminals, they would also be afforded the same immunity as law enforcement.
“How can we interpret that any way other than they are deputizing vigilantes,” said Kat Rodriguez, program director with Coalicion de Derechos Humanos.
Some people living near the international crossing see the proposal as political pandering to conservative crowds.
“This seems to me like the state is sanctioning the minuteman project from 2005 to 2006 and to me that is a scary prospect,” Curt Prendergrast, reporter for the Sonoran Chronicle.
The minutemen citizens patrol group at its height consisted of thousands of volunteers who vowed to shut down the border.
Minutemen founder, Jim Gilchrist spearheaded the movement many accused of vigilantism.
“You’ve had a couple of ranchers and several law enforcement officers murdered by illegal aliens,” said Gilchrist.
He admits that his call to guard the border attracted extremist elements but still hopes other states will follow Arizona’s militia proposal.
“It promotes community involvement and let’s citizens who don’t want to be police officers or official gun toting members of law enforcement to participate in that process. I would love to do something like that,” said Gilchrist.
The bill’s author, Arizona State Senator Sylvia Allen, also claims middle-eastern terrorists are teaming up with drug smugglers.
The US government says not a single person who has unlawfully crossed the Southwest border has been charged with terrorism.
“I don’t think that we should take these people who are very angry over this vague nebulous threat of illegal immigration and cartels and give them weapons,” said Prendergrast.
Advocates for the Special Missions Unit believe they will attract former service-members who already have weapons and surveillance experience.
“We are proceeding from a premise of confidence, that we know what we’re doing and we know how to protect our border," said Foote.
Arizona has been a testing ground for tough anti-immigrant legislation later adopted elsewhere.
With SB 1083 just steps away from becoming law, armed volunteer militia may soon be a regular feature along the entire southern border of the US.