On Saturday, the FBI arrested the leader of a group that claims to be “assisting” United States Customs and Border Patrol in apprehending illegal immigrants along the United States-Mexico border.
Reuters reports that the FBI took Larry Hopkins, also known as “Johnny Horton,” into custody in New Mexico, “on a federal complaint charging him with being a felon in possession of firearms and ammunition.”
Hopkins is the leader of the United Concerned Patriots, who have been “camped out on a rotating basis” along the United States southern border near Sunland Park, New Mexico. The group isn’t new to the area; a small band of militia members has been stationed in Sunland Park since mid-February.
What is new, however, are complaints. New Mexico state government announced last week that it was cracking down on the group after photos and videos emerged of them rounding up and detaining migrants who crossed the border under the nose of border patrol agents. The videos, which UCP posted itself, show the group capturing illegal immigrants, cordoning them off, and then ordering them to “stop, sit down, and wait” until the CBP arrived to handle the situation.
UCP claims to have “arrested” more than 5,000 migrants since taking up residence at the New Mexico-Mexico border in mid-February.
The United States Customs and Border Protection Agency says it “does not support citizens taking law enforcement into their own hands,” according to Reuters, and instead encourages Americans living along the border to alert law enforcement when they see suspicious activity.
CBP also says that it warned UCP Friday to stop undertaking border interdictions, according to local media, or they could face problems from the federal government.
“Interference by civilians in law enforcement matters could have public safety and legal consequences for all parties involved,” CBP said in a statement posted to social media.
In response to the videos and UCP’s claims, New Mexico’s governor and attorney general ordered a halt to UCP’s “operations, and the ACLU, which calls the group a “fascist militia,” pressured sites like PayPal to stop allowing UCP to raise funds for its work.
“This has no place in our state: we cannot allow racist and armed vigilantes to kidnap and detain people seeking asylum,” the New Mexico ACLU said in its own statement issued ahead of Hopkins’ arrest.
The FBI says Hopkins was taken peacefully and that his arrest stems from a similar arrest in Oregon in 2006, where he was charged with impersonating a law enforcement officer and being illegally in possession of a firearm.
UCP told media that it plans to continue its work until it is officially disbanded, and that it continues to receive support, despite having no access to PayPal or fundraising sites like GoFundMe.
U.S. border patrol authorities have repeatedly said they are unable to handle the flow of illegal immigrants coming across the border since late 2018, and are asking for funds from the federal government to help alleviate a dearth of personnel and resources. Although most pro-immigration activists now recognize that the CBP is overwhelmed, they blame the Trump administration for allowing the situation to reach crisis levels along the southern border.