Asylum Seekers in the US-Mexico Border
Migrants expecting to cross the border in Arizona. AFP

A joint investigation by the Texas Observer and Arizona Center for Investigative Reporting found that organized vigilante groups are patrolling the southern border, taking photos with law enforcement, and sharing footage online to solicit donations and recruit new members.

Despite being illegal, citizen militias have historically operated along the border, often with tacit approval from law enforcement. These groups, often wearing tactical gear, have forged relationships with local and federal law enforcement in Arizona and Texas, the report explains. This has raised concerns about the potential for increased violence and illegal actions by these vigilantes.

Ken Magidson, former U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Texas, expressed concern with the outlet over the apparent law enforcement collusion with vigilantes. This relationship, he noted, suggests that the law is not being applied fairly and equitably.

Portraying themselves as border "neighborhood watch" or humanitarian organizations, some of these vigilante groups have spread conspiracy theories, threatened unarmed individuals, and damaged humanitarian aid stations.

Arizona Sheriff Mark Lamb, from Pinal County, has publicly supported his son's vigilante group as part of his Senate campaign. Cade Lamb's Sonoran Asset Group, founded in September 2022, operates as a political consulting firm but frequently shares footage of Cade questioning and harassing migrants, the investigation found.

Other vigilante leaders, like Samuel Hall of Patriots for America (PFA), claim to work with local law enforcement in Kinney County, Texas. Although the Kinney County Sheriff's Office denies formal arrangements, PFA members have posted about their patrols and interactions with law enforcement.

Photos and videos show PFA members patrolling rural areas, often in areas highly militarized by Governor Greg Abbott's border enforcement project, Operation Lone Star. In some instances, members with criminal records have been found carrying firearms illegally, yet law enforcement has not taken action against them.

In one significant incident, PFA members responded to the Robb Elementary School shooting in Uvalde, Texas, in May 2022. Videos show them walking around and filming beyond the police line, raising concerns about their presence at such critical scenes. Local law enforcement has been fiercely criticized for their botched response to the shooting, with a recent Department of Justice report finding "cascading failures" in it.

Despite denials of formal collaboration, the presence and actions of these vigilante groups at the border and their interactions with law enforcement have raised legal and ethical questions, the piece concludes.

The increasing political rhetoric from members of the Republican party (particularly presumptive presidential nominee Donald Trump) around a border "invasion" and calls to bear arms to "secure the border" have emboldened these groups, complicating the already volatile situation along the U.S.-Mexico border.

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