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Vigilante Militia Detains Immigrants at Border, Leader Gets Arrested

Road next to a fence in a  clear day.
By Christopher Coble, Esq. on April 24, 2019

Anti-immigrant rhetoric from the president may have convinced some Americans to take the law into their own hands. After all, President Trump declared a national emergency at the U.S.-Mexico border two months ago and ordered National Guard troops to the border last year. So it's perhaps possible that the United Constitutional Patriots thought they were lending a friendly hand to Border Patrol agents by rounding up migrants at gunpoint and calling immigration officers on them.

This seems unlikely, since the far-right militia was also "training to assassinate George Soros, Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama," according to their leader, Larry Mitchell Hopkins. And now that Hopkins has been arrested, it might a good time to revisit the law surrounding citizen's arrests and why they are generally not a good idea.

Patriots and Border Patrol

According to several videos taken at the border in New Mexico and posted to the group's Facebook page, men affiliated with the United Constitutional Patriots approaching migrant families and children (at one point calling themselves "border patrol"), ordering them to sit down, and calling federal agents to their location. Buzzfeed reports the group has detained hundreds of migrants in the past few months:

In a 41-minute video posted by the group this week, a large gathering of people, including several young children, are seen sitting in dirt as members of the militia encircle. Children are bundled up in sweaters, some wearing backpacks, while illuminated by flashlights.
"This group was so huge we won't have an accurate count until the [Border Patrol] is finished processing them," the group said on its Facebook page. "This needs to stop!!!!! Build the wall."

Officially, U.S. Customs and Border Protection "does not endorse or condone private groups or organizations that take enforcement matters into their own hands," the agency said on Twitter. "Interference by civilians in law enforcement matters could have public safety and legal consequences for all parties involved." But Buzzfeed also reported that at least one Border Patrol officials was seen leaving five women and five children in the militia's custody and agents have been photographed posing with militia members.

Interestingly, Hopkins was not arrested for taking part in the militia's activities at the border. He was charged with being a felon in possession of firearms and ammunition by the FBI.

Cops and Citizens

Lest you get any ideas, however, you should know that so-called citizen's arrests are only permissible if you reasonably suspect someone of committing a felony, and improper entry into the country is only a misdemeanor offense. Conducting an improper arrest or using more than a reasonable amount of force to detain someone can lead to a civil lawsuit for false imprisonment, assault, battery and wrongful death.

So instead of taking the law into your own hands, contact real law enforcement officials if you think a crime is occurring or has been committed. Or you may be the one needing a lawyer.

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