Politics

Arizona vigilantes back hassling asylum seekers at border under Border Patrol’s benign watch

Harrison interrogates the immigrants in the videos: “Why are you here?” she can be heard demanding in several. She also is seen demanding passports and other papers, asking the immigrants where they’re from. She also demands they remove their face masks. In one video, as a family from Chile clambers up a slope towards her with a child in the father’s arms, she can be heard saying: “Well, we’ll be supporting this baby for the next 20 years.”

It’s clear from the videos posted on AZ Patriots’ YouTube channel that the flow of migrants Harrison and her cohorts recorded coming over this crossing is comprised almost entirely of asylum seekers, primarily because they come extraordinarily far-flung locales: Chile, India, Venezuela, Columbia. These are in fact countries undergoing the kind of violent internal turmoil that produces asylum seekers.

A woman from Colombia tells her, between sobs, that her husband has been killed—though it’s unclear if that is why she fled in the first place. But the fact that these immigrants are seeking asylum—which in fact is perfectly legal under international and American law—doesn’t matter to Harrison. She describes them in the video titles as “illegal aliens” and claims that they are all “entering illegally.”

At the end of one of them, Harrison boasts: “I’m back, bitches. You might think you can cancel me, delete me, ban me, block me, shadow me. I ain’t going anywhere. I will be down here, boots on the ground, bitches.”

Harrison has a long history of notoriously ugly far-right activism. AZ Patriots (also known as the Patriot Movement of Arizona) won notoriety in 2018 for a Facebook video posted by a leading member of the group showing her entering a Muslim mosque and removing articles, leading eventually to a felony conviction for the woman. Harrison, who was sued by several churches for harassing immigrant children by posting videos of them arriving by bus, herself currently faces a felony identity theft charge in Maricopa County.  

Most recently, in the wake of the November 2020 presidential election—which Democrat Joe Biden surprisingly won in Arizona—Harrison was one of the leading figures protesting outside election-counting centers. Harrison also led a small delegation inside the building in the early moments of one protest, where video showed her demanding to be permitted to observe the count, and being denied.

AZ Patriots claims that it is in Yuma County assisting CBP, but as New Times notes, it’s not clear whether CBP actually wants them there. The agents who appear in Harrison’s video seem to pay only glancing attention to her. However, it also is apparent that the agents have no interest in stopping her from harassing the border crossers.

CBP spokesperson John Mennell told New Times the agency “does not endorse or support New Times any private group or organization taking matters into their own hands as it could have disastrous personal and public safety consequences.”

Mennell noted that detaining migrants could be an issue: “Forced detention can also be viewed as a criminal offense and violators will be referred to local, state or federal prosecutors for potential legal action,” he said.

Previous border “Patriot” groups have gotten into serious trouble with the law for similar behavior, harassing immigrants at the border. One group, dubbed the United Constitutional Patriots, that hassled border crossers in New Mexico in 2019 ran afoul of authorities by posing as Border Patrol officers while doing so. After the local community ran their operation out of town, federal authorities charged their leader, Jim Benvie, was charged with and convicted of impersonating a federal agent, and was sentenced to 21 months in prison.

There is a long, deep tradition of sociopathic behavior within the border-vigilante movement, dating back to its origins 20 years ago. That’s a product of its fundamentally anti-empathetic politics, which revolve around the crude demonization of immigrant “others.” Harrison and her cohorts are keeping up the tradition, and then some.




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