The crisis along the US-Mexico border has prompted concerned citizens to take matters into their own hands. Reports emerged this week that armed volunteer militia groups from across the country have begun patrolling the border to help stem the tide of immigrants illegally crossing over.
Barbie Rogers, who runs the Patriot Information Hotline, a 24-hour conference line that the groups are using to coordinate their efforts, told VICE News that 14 groups have taken up patrol along the border from Texas to California, with more on the way.
“We need people out here to help control the influx of people,” she said. “As of a month ago, there were 130,000 people that have crossed the border illegally since January. Our economy cannot handle that. In the past month, we’ve added another 30 or 40,000 [undocumented immigrants].”
'Once I heard there were this many children coming over, I had to come see it with my own eyes.'
According to statistics compiled by US Customs and Border Protection (CBP) as of June 30, a total of 57,525 unaccompanied minors have been apprehended while attempting to cross the border illegally since last October — a 106 percent increase from the previous year’s total. Some 55,000 “family units” were apprehended in the same span, amounting to a year-to-year increase of 493 percent. In 2013, CBP officers apprehended 414,397 people crossing the southwest border illegally, amounting to an average of 1,135 people per day.
The unaccompanied minors crisis is not really about border enforcement. Read more here.
While Texas Gov. Rick Perry responded to the growing concerns about the increase in illegal immigration at the border last week by deploying 1,000 National Guard troops to the region, Rogers believes they need more help.
“Back in 2006, President Bush sent 6,000 National Guard members to the border,” she said. “Are you telling me the nation hasn’t grown and the problem hasn’t increased since 2006? And Perry is only going to send up to 1,000 National Guard troops. I’d say we need at least 20,000 more people down here.”
While vigilante border operations rely heavily on secrecy, the teams and groups that Rogers confirmed were operating along the border include Operation Secure Our Border: Texas (formerly Operation Secure Our Border: Laredo Sector), the Central Valley Citizen’s Militia, the Independent Citizen’s Militia, Bolinas Border Patrol, Alpha Team, Bravo Team, Camp Geronimo, Whiskey Bravo, and the Oathkeepers.
'If you want to come into this country, do it the right way.'
The participants come from many walks of life.
“Some of them are retired veterans, they’re construction workers, they’re plumbers,” Rogers said. “We’ve had a retired pastor from the Army call the hotline — they’re just regular Joes and Janes from across the United States who want to close the border and bring America back to the place it used to be.”
‘America is immigrants’: Jose Antonio Vargas discusses the border crisis following his detention in Texas. Read more here.
A man working with Camp Geronimo who agreed to speak with VICE News on the condition of anonymity said that he drove more than 20 hours from Indiana to assist Border Patrol officers.
Most of the people he’s encountered while patrolling the border have been volunteers, veterans, and average citizens concerned about the security of the US border, he said, noting that he’s only personally encountered two other militia groups.
“It’s not a Mexican problem, it’s an American problem,” he remarked. “I can’t speak for why every group is down here, but our goal is simple — if you want to come into this country, do it the right way. Come here, fill out the paperwork, and go through the same process as everyone else.”
Camp Geronimo actively patrols the area around the Pharr-Reynosa International Bridge, one of the most important and widely used ports of entry between the US and Mexico.
“Once I heard there were this many children coming over, I had to come see it with my own eyes,” the representative from Camp Geronimo said. His group hasn’t yet seen any unaccompanied minors, however. Using equipment like thermal imaging scopes and night vision goggles, they have noticed mostly young men, whom they refer to as “backpackers,” sneaking across the border. They alert suspicious activity to authorities, and haven’t apprehended anyone themselves.
“If we have anyone that approaches us with hostility, we will apprehend them,” he said.
Controversy erupted this week after photos released to the San Antonio Express-News by one of the volunteer groups showed a Border Patrol officer pointing at a map and appearing to provide directions to militia members, despite the release of an official CBP statement earlier this month denouncing the assistance of volunteers.
While acknowledging that the CBP “appreciates the efforts of concerned citizens as they act as our eyes and ears,” the statement noted that “CBP does not endorse or support any private group or organization from taking matters into their own hands as it could have disastrous personal and public safety consequences.”
Nevertheless, Parris Frazier, who identified himself as the leader of Whiskey Bravo, a group that patrols a 10-mile section of the border along Arizona, told VICE News that border patrol agents have been receptive to his group and others operating in the region.
“Every day when I’m driving to and from Sierra Vista down here to where I’m at, I get stopped, I shake their hands, and we talk, but we don’t really talk about what’s going on,” Frazier said, speaking from an area east of Nogales, roughly a half mile inside the Arizona border. “Every now and then I’ll ask a question and they’ll give me a nod yes or no.”
He added that donors help fund Whiskey Bravo’s operation.
“I’m down here as long as I need to be here to get the story out that there are people down here, like me, who have sacrificed jobs, family, and friends to be patriots, and do what we’re supposed to do,” he said.
As he spoke with VICE News, Frazier began counting people that he claimed to see attempting to illegally cross the border.
“I see one, two, three, four, five, six illegal immigrants, about a mile and a half away from me, and I’m trying to see if there’s a Border Patrol vehicle within eyesight,” he said. “There’s no one out here but me.”
He said that he and his group would not try to apprehend these individuals. Protocol requires that volunteers contact Border Patrol officers when they see anything.
“We do not return fire unless we are fired upon,” he replied when asked about his group’s use of firearms. “I have not fired my weapon since I’ve been down here. I’m down here for the sole purpose of intercepting human and drug-smuggling activities that are occurring in the area.”
Mark Potok, a senior fellow at the Southern Poverty Law Center, told VICE News that these groups have historically been more about talk than action.
None of the sources VICE News spoke disclosed the number of people involved in their groups, and Potok expressed doubt about the reports of volunteers streaming to the border.
“Frankly, I looked at the photographs [in the San Antonio Express-News] and it looked to me like a dozen people,” he said. “The only inkling of knowledge we have that any of these militia groups existed before they actually showed up was about a week ago, when a sheriff from Hidalgo County in Texas said he had heard there were six militiamen down there. While I’m not doubting anyone’s reporting, I really do think there are only a handful of people down there.”
Whatever the extent of the call to action, Potok believes one thing is certain.
“The reality is, when you put large weapons in the hands of untrained people and send them to the border, trouble almost invariably follows,” he said.
Follow Maxwell Barna on Twitter: @MaxwellBarna