A militia group detained migrants at the border. The ACLU calls it kidnapping

A member of Constitutional Patriots New Mexico Border Ops Team militia is pictured near Mt. Christo Rey in Sunland Park, New Mexico, on March 20, 2019.

A militia group near the US-Mexico border detained hundreds of people this week, New Mexico’s attorney general told CNN.

“My office has been informed that this week, an armed group has detained nearly 300 people near Sunland Park, New Mexico,” Attorney General Hector Balderas said in a written statement. “These individuals should not attempt to exercise authority reserved for law enforcement.”

Videos posted online purportedly showing migrants held by the United Constitutional Patriots group and handed over to the US Border Patrol drew swift condemnation from the American Civil Liberties Union of New Mexico.

“We cannot allow racist and armed vigilantes to kidnap and detain people seeking asylum,” the ACLU said in a letter to state authorities denouncing the actions and asking the government to step in. “We urge you to immediately investigate this atrocious and unlawful conduct.”

CNN is reaching out to the United Constitutional Patriots for comment.

The New York Times reported that a spokesman for the militia group said their actions were legal, “comparing the detention of the migrants to ‘a verbal citizen’s arrest.'”

Asked about the United Constitutional Patriots and the videos the group has posted online, a CBP spokesman declined to comment on the group itself or the social media posts, but said the agency “does not endorse or condone private groups or organizations taking enforcement measures into their own hands.”

“Interference by civilians in law enforcement matters could have public safety and legal consequences for all parties involved,” the spokesman said in a written statement, referring those who suspect illegal activity to call 911 or contact the agency directly. “Border Security operations are complex and require highly trained professionals with adequate resources to protect the country.”

A statement on the United Constitutional Patriots’ Facebook page describes the group as “Americans that believe in the constitution and the rights of every American that will stand up for there rights in unity and help keep America safe.”

New Mexico’s governor told the New York Times that the group’s actions were “completely unacceptable.”

“It should go without saying that regular citizens have no authority to arrest or detain anyone,” Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham said, according to the Times.

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