'Camobagging' in the Desert
This was originally written in light of a situation in New Mexico where an armed patriot militia held several hundred migrants at gunpoint and detained them for Border Patrol, but remains relevant to the culture of border militias, and militia/patriot groups across the country that glorify their presence. The above image shows AZ Desert Guardians/Veterans on Patrol putting flex cuffs on a small child in a family of asylum seekers.
Many people were shocked by a news story that a border militia in New Mexico had allegedly detained a group of 300 Central Americans who were seeking asylum in the United States. It is very important for those who do not live in the Borderlands to understand that this is not a new development. For many decades, various militia formations have appointed themselves the less accountable wing of the CBP, and have engaged in terrifying and dehumanizing refugee families seeking asylum. Many of these border militias have also been charged with trespassing, theft, rape, drug smuggling, and in one case, a home invasion in Arivaca, AZ where they murdered a man and his 9 year old daughter. There have also been many overlaps between border militias and white nationalist/white supremacist groups, such as neo-Nazi JT Ready, leader of the Arizona Minutemen, who murdered his entire family and killed himself in 2012. Most of these so-called “patriot” militias have come from outside of the border towns, many even “camobagging,” ie. traveling from all across the country so that they can spend a week in the desert and look tough in their social media pictures.
The residents of the border towns are tired of having militia members parachute into their areas with zero local cultural understanding or accountability to local communities. Many have responded by posting “No Militia Members” at their businesses, and holding town halls about how to run them out.
For those of you who carry arms defensively and are interested in assisting migrants and these border communities- it starts with connecting to local residents and migrants themselves and finding out what will actually be helpful. Our branches on the border assist with humanitarian efforts on the border, search & rescue, and direct support for asylum seekers being released by ICE. Many people on the border are opening their homes to asylum seekers, and allowing them to rest as they continue their journeys to join family members in the U.S. Access to healthcare for asylum seekers has also been an important need, as the journey to come to America is very dangerous and many families spend a lot of time living on the street and in detention centers before they are released. There are many ways to get involved without a "guts and glory" approach.
Please do not make the same mistake as these border militias and parachute in overflowing with machismo- this will not be helpful or received well.
For those of you who are in militias- do not be fooled into thinking that border work like this is noble on any level. Anytime that large groups of migrants cross the border like this together, they are seeking to self-surrender, and they were denied illegally at the port of entry from applying for asylum. Nobody crosses in a group of 100 or more because they expect to evade capture. This is a daily occurrence on the border because hundreds of asylum-seekers are not allowed to enter legally at the port of entry and apply for asylum, so instead they cross just outside of the port of entry, sit down on the other side, and wait for CBP to come pick them. They are not being "caught" by border militias, they are refugees being harassed at a vulnerable moment when they're literally petitioning the US government for help.
If you have involved yourself in border militias, ask yourself- How can you have any pride if you're working without the support of the communities you’re in, and you're viewed as an unaccountable outsider? What vision of the US are you patriotic about if you're terrorizing and frightening families with small children that came to our country to ask for asylum from violence? If your family had to flee violence and civil war and seek refuge in a strange country, would you want your children met with rifles, or an outstretched hand to help them up? Pack up your guns and go home.
If you'd like to connect to groups already doing solid work on the border, suggestions include:
RAICES, Los Aguilas del Desierto, Humane Borders, Phoenix Restoration Project, Land and Liberty, Phoenix Allies for Community Health, No More Deaths, Kino Border Initiative, Florence Immigrant and Refugee Rights Project, Tohono O'odham Hemajkam Rights Network, Southern Border Communities Coalition, and Casa Mariposa.