New Mexico Governor Demands Right-Wing Militia Stop Illegally Holding Migrants

"Viper" and "Stinger" — armed members of the Constitutional Patriots New Mexico Border Ops Team militia — patrol the border last month in Sunland Park, New Mexico. (Photo: PAUL RATJE via Getty Images)

New Mexico’s governor has ordered a right-wing militia to stand down and stop illegally holding migrants — often at gunpoint ― in her state.

“Regular citizens have no authority to arrest or detain anyone,” Michelle Lujan Grisham said Friday.

“That migrant families might be menaced or threatened in any way, shape or form when they arrive at our border — often times after an unimaginably arduous journey — is completely unacceptable,” Lujan Grisham said in an email to NBC News.

The American Civil Liberties Union alerted the governor to the militia in a letter Thursday. The vigilantes, who call themselves the United Constitutional Patriots, “arrested” nearly 300 people near Sunland Park in New Mexico on Tuesday, according to the letter.

A video revealing the “operation” has been posted online by the group (below). A woman with the militia can be heard telling others not to point guns at the migrants while they wait for U.S. Border Patrol agents to arrive to collect the asylum seekers.

The ACLU characterized the group as an “armed fascist militia organization” made up of “vigilantes” working to “kidnap and detain people seeking asylum.” 

The vigilantes are “not police or law enforcement and they have no authority under New Mexico or federal law to detain or arrest migrants in the United States,” the letter stated. The vigilantes are seen in photos posted or taken by the media dressed in fatigues and armed with semiautomatic rifles or handguns.

“The Trump administration’s vile racism has emboldened white nationalists and fascists to flagrantly violate the law,” the ACLU said in the letter. “This has no place in our state: we cannot allow racist and armed vigilantes to kidnap and detain people seeking asylum. We urge you to immediately investigate this atrocious and unlawful conduct.”

A spokesman for the group who identifies himself as Jim Benvie of Minnesota posted a video Wednesday on Facebook showing a group that appeared to be almost all women and children being held on a sandy patch of earth, presumably initially by the vigilantes, but border agents are on the scene as Benvie films. Benvie claims in another video that Border Patrol agents are “happy” that the vigilantes take action.

He told The New York Times that his group has been camped out near El Paso for the last two months. He insisted the vigilantes’ actions are legal, comparing the detentions to a “verbal citizen’s arrest.” He told the Times that group members are told not to point their weapons at the immigrants.

U.S. Customs and Border Protection said in a statement that CBP “does not endorse private groups or organizations taking enforcement matters into their own hands.” It added that interference by civilians “could have public safety and legal consequences for all parties involved.”

“It should go without saying that regular citizens have no authority to arrest or detain anyone,” Lujan Grisham said in her statement. “My office and our state police are coordinating with the Attorney General’s Office and local police to determine what has gone on and what can be done.”

State Attorney General Hector Balderas warned that “these individuals should not attempt to exercise authority reserved for law enforcement.”

Law enforcement should intervene and prosecute militia members for kidnapping, Stephanie Corte, an immigrant rights campaign strategist at the ACLU in New Mexico, told The Guardian.

“These people are armed, their intentions are misguided and they certainly don’t have training, much less any authority, to be conducting arrests and long-term detentions of people coming across the border,” Peter Simonson, executive director of the ACLU of New Mexico, told CNN. “We are concerned this is such a potentially explosive situation, we are worried someone is going to get hurt.”

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This article originally appeared on HuffPost.