Lawmakers call on Biden administration to prioritize reining in violent paramilitary vigilantes
Washington (January 12, 2023) – Following President Biden’s visit to the southwest border and his meeting with Mexican President López Obrador, Senators Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.), Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and Cory Booker (D-N.J.) sent a letter to Attorney General Merrick Garland, Secretary of Homeland Security Alejandro Mayorkas, and Acting U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) Administrator Troy Miller expressing serious concerns over the rise of paramilitary vigilante groups patrolling the U.S.-Mexico border and unlawfully intimidating, harassing, and detaining immigrants, sometimes in collaboration with, or with approval from, local, state, and federal law enforcement agencies. As the Biden administration announces new border enforcement policies, the lawmakers urge it to crack down on vigilante groups that undermine the rule of law, as well as the rights and safety of migrants.
“For years, unlawful paramilitary organizations have engaged in unofficial border missions — reminiscent of Ku Klux Klan border patrols — intended to illegally detain and harass immigrants. These activities undermine legitimate government authority and threaten public safety,” wrote Senators Markey, Warren, and Booker. “Recently, many paramilitary groups have stepped up their efforts, creating an escalating crisis that must be a priority for both the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and the U.S. Department of Justice.”
The senators highlighted their concerns over the actions of paramilitary group Veterans on Patrol (VOP), writing: “Since 2021, VOPhas been intercepting unaccompanied minors near the border in Arizona, surveilling U.S.-based sponsors, and in some cases, confronting, or helping others confront, the sponsors at their homes. VOP has also disguised its desert campsites as water stations — meant to mimic those placed by faith-based organizations such as Humane Borders — in order to lure migrants; VOP then turns them over to CBP.”
The senators also directed the Administration’s attention to alarming reports of collaboration between law enforcement officials and the group Patriots for America (PFA), writing: “According to the American Civil Liberties Union in Texas, PFA is ‘directly collaborating with the Kinney County Sheriff’s Office’ and ‘on at least one occasion they seem to have collaborated with the Texas National Guard as well.’ Alarmingly, there is also evidence of open collaboration with federal agents. In May 2021, a video uploaded to Facebook depicted a Border Patrol agent meeting with VOP members and praising their activities before collecting drone footage from the group.”
The letter concluded, “Absent federal action cracking down on their unauthorized behavior, vigilante groups will continue to operate and weaken the government’s ability to maintain migrant safety, protect human rights, and defend the rule of law at the border.”
Senators Markey, Warren and Booker requested that DOJ, DHS, and CBP respond to the following questions by January 30, 2023: