United States Immigration and Customs Enforcement apprehended more than 2 million people crossing the U.S.-Mexico border in the 2023 fiscal year.
Many are fleeing persecution, poverty and violence in their homeland. Now, an armed militia is patrolling the border in Arizona in an effort to stop the flow and catch alleged drug smugglers and traffickers. Los Angeles Times criminal justice editor Keegan Hamilton embedded himself with the militia to see what's happening at our border. Hamilton joined host Lisa McRee on "LA Times Today."
Hamilton explained that the people in the Arizona Border Recon group come from all over the country. He talked about what the group does when they see migrants approach the border.
"If it's a group of people in camouflage or trying to sneak across the border, they will go and try to essentially intimidate them into crossing back into Mexico," said Hamilton. "When they see these folks, they sort of make their presence known and try to get them to go back into Mexico. When it's a group of asylum seekers... they will in some cases give them water and supplies but not let them pass. They essentially say, 'Stay where you are, and we'll call the Border patrol for processing.'"
U.S. Border Patrol says that 90% of the people who are crossing the border are not drug traffickers or criminals, that they are in fact economic migrants. Hamilton explained that while Border Patrol does not want these vigilante groups trying to detain migrants, local opinion of the group is more divided.
"In the small town near where this group operates, the only bar in town has a sign in the door that says, 'Members of vigilante groups are not welcome here,'" Hamilton said. "We talked to several folks who didn't like them. They're worried about what could happen if they were there, in terms of a shooting or something like that. But on the flipside, there are some folks out there who really believe that these folks are making a difference, who want them out there and feel like they're a deterrent."
Hamilton also heard from humanitarian groups who suspect that the militia groups have sabotaged their efforts to provide migrants with water and other supplies.
"We spoke to humanitarian groups that are trying to prevent deaths in the desert," he said. "They spoke about harassment in some cases from vigilante groups. And also their supplies, their water stations being vandalized, destroyed in some cases. The vigilantes that we spoke to say that they follow the law, and they are out there to help and not do harm."
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