In the southeastern corner of Arizona, Cochise County rides the Mexican border. And there's a burr under its saddle.
Armed civilian groups are patrolling the international boundary, scouting the rolling grasslands and rough hills for people who have entered the United States illegally, and in many cases detaining them until the U.S. Border Patrol arrives to take them into custody. The leaders of these militias say they are compensating for inadequate government enforcement of misguided immigration policies that allow undocumented workers, drug smugglers, and possibly terrorists to "swarm" across the border, damaging private property, harming the environment, and intimidating rural residents.
Human-rights organizations charge that these militias terrorize people they assume to be undocumented immigrants, violate state laws limiting militia activities and civilian arrests, escalate the potential for violence, and maintain links to racist hate groups.
"People were already being harassed by the Border Patrol, and now things have gotten even worse," says Jennifer Allen of the Tucson-based Border Action Network. Mexican Americans born and raised in the United States, she says, "used to go out hunting or hiking, but they've been dragged out of their tents and harassed to such a degree that they don't go out of the city anymore. And now these vigilantes are out there with the attitude that if you're brown and out in the desert, you must be an undocumented migrant. So even the residents are in danger because the vigilante groups are bringing people in that are racist and hunting for anyone with brown skin."