Self-styled citizen border patrol abandons New Mexico camp: police

By Julio-Cesar Chavez and Andrew Hay
The old (bottom R) and the new border fence dividing U.S. and Mexico is seen from Tecate, Mexico April 4, 2019. REUTERS/Carlos Jasso

By Julio-Cesar Chavez and Andrew Hay

SUNLAND PARK, N.M./TAOS, N.M. (Reuters) - An armed group that has been stopping migrants illegally crossing the U.S.-Mexico border honored a request to leave their camp in New Mexico on Tuesday and appeared to be heading home, the local police chief said.

The group's leader Larry Hopkins appeared in court in Las Cruces, New Mexico, on Monday to face firearms charges following his arrest on Saturday by the FBI.

Sunland Park, New Mexico, Police Chief Javier Guerra said the group left their campsite outside the town following a request by the Union Pacific Railroad, which said they had trespassed on its land.

A Reuters witness saw members of the group, which calls itself the United Constitutional Patriots (UCP), driving away in their vehicles and a tow truck pulling what Guerra said was Hopkins' pickup truck.

"It appears there's a little bit of disenchantment among the ranks there," Guerra said. "They're not happy with the outcome with Mr. Hopkins. They were saying they're just tired of this B.S. and they're going back to their homes."

Wearing camouflage uniforms and carrying semi-automatic rifles, the group's half a dozen or so members have been camped for two months next to the railroad tracks, claiming to be working with U.S. Border Patrol to detain some 5,600 migrants, most of them Central American families seeking asylum.

Their online videos showing members stopping families drew a complaint from the American Civil Liberties Union, which accused them of illegally detaining and kidnapping migrants.

New Mexico's Democratic Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham said their activities had to stop and the Federal Bureau of Investigation moved in on Saturday to arrest Hopkins on 18-month-old charges.

Union Pacific said on Tuesday the group did not have permission to be on its property and gave them a 30-minute ultimatum to leave.

UCP spokesman Jim Benvie had previously said the group planned to relocate to a nearby site and continue patrolling the border. He was not immediately available to comment further.

"Hopefully it should be a thing of the past. As of today, they won’t be out there harassing anybody," said Guerra. "At the end of the day it was a very good outcome for everybody."

(Reporting by Andrew Hay in Taos, New Mexico, and Julio-Cesar Chavez in Sunland Park, New Mexico; editing by Richard Chang, Howard Goller and Sonya Hepinstall)