A group calling itself the Border Keepers of Alabama enlists with local para-border patrol groups to run “special operations” on the U.S.-Mexico border in an attempt to fill in the cracks of federal border agents’ coverage.
The 1,989-mile-long border is nearly impossible to protect fully from would-be immigrants seeking refuge from drug violence and poor economic conditions in Mexico, say the volunteers.
But they say it’s an important task, and some have traveled up to 1,600 miles to participate directly in efforts to disrupt illegal immigrants and so-called “coyotes,” smugglers paid by people seeking to enter the country under the cover of darkness.
Many carry weapons, but senior members of the groups — including the Three Percent United Patriots of Arizona, who style themselves after the roughly three percent of colonial Americans who fought in the Revolutionary War — advise the volunteers not to use them unless threatened for their lives.
Though the paramilitary-like volunteers’ efforts are not sanctioned by the federal authorities, they say many border agents appreciate their aid.
“They’re happy we’re here. It helps them out,” a man who goes by “Ghost,” the Arizona op’s commanding officer, told WIAT in Birmingham.
For the most part, their operations consist of waiting near popular crossing spots, waiting for them to cross the border, and trying to convince the violators to sit down and wait while they call on the authorities to apprehend them.
Many say they are motivated by a desire to stop the flow of illegal drugs from the Unites States’ neighbors to the south. Heroin deaths and usage are up all across Alabama, and many Border Keepers say taking action at the border is the only way to intervene directly.
“You know, we’re all not crazy zealots. Somebody’s got to do it, and our government’s not doing it, so we’ve got to answer that call where we can,” said another volunteer whose call sign is “Trigger.”
Critics of the vigilante groups say the civilian-led operations could result in perilous situations both for them and the would-be undocumented immigrants. But members of the groups say they take every caution to avoid mishaps.
“It’s not like we want somebody here that this is the first time they’ve ever had a gun on their hand or the first time they’ve been away from their family. We’ve got to have people here that are levelheaded, that have experience,” “Geezer,” another Border Keeper from Alabama told WIAT.