Apr 29, 2019
On April 20, the FBI arrested Larry Hopkins in New Mexico. He is the leader of the United Constitutional Patriots, one of the vigilante groups that patrols the U.S. border with Mexico. He was charged with being a felon in possession of firearms and ammunition.
The United Constitutional Patriots attracted particular scrutiny after posting videos to Facebook showing armed men stopping and holding people trying to cross. One video posted on April 16 shows a large group of migrants with a number of children, huddled on the ground in the darkness, guarded by unseen armed men, before Border Patrol agents arrive to take them all away. These videos went viral, revealing the reality of the border, prompting Hopkins’ arrest.
Vigilantes like Hopkins have no doubt been emboldened by Donald Trump’s recent attacks on migrants. But, in fact, both political parties advocate “border security” and both have and still do carry out policies that kill migrants.
According to U.S. Customs and Border Protection, 7,216 people died crossing the border between 1998 and 2017. At least 260 died in 2018 alone. And these official numbers vastly undercount the number of deaths. A CNN report in May 2018 found 564 additional deaths that the border patrol did not count. And this excludes all those who die on the Mexican side, or who die in the desert and are never found.
Today, the majority of border-crossers seek to find a U.S. agent to surrender to and legally apply for asylum. Yet they are blocked from getting to border crossings by Mexican police who are cooperating with the U.S. to prevent asylum-seekers from even being able to file. And the safe places to cross are also blocked by walls and agents.
As a result, migrants are forced deeper and deeper into the desert. U.S. border patrol agents have had a policy for decades now of destroying food and water left out for migrants in the desert. So migrants die of exposure and thirst, or they are forced to turn to violent smugglers to find a way across – smugglers who sometimes kidnap them for ransom or abandon them, increasing the risk.
And even as migration from Mexico has slowed, increasing numbers of women and children from Honduras, Guatemala, and El Salvador keep coming, despite these dangers, because their situation at home is intolerable.