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Border securityObama’s immigration executive order fuels a resurgence of armed border groups

Published 7 January 2015

The last few years have seen the influence of armed border militias, such as the Minuteman Project, on immigration matters, diminish. A combination of dwindling financial resources, bad publicity, and anti-immigration measures passed by conservative legislatures in border states caused the influence of these groups on the immigration debate to decline, as was their ability to sustain a presence along the Southwest border. President Barack Obama’s recent executive order to provide work permits to roughly five million undocumented immigrants who have been in the country illegally for years, has caused a resurgence of border groups.

Last year the Homeland Security News Wire reported on the diminishing influence of armed border militias, such as the Minuteman Project, on immigration matters. These groups tried to contribute to the debate over illegal immigration  by physically placing their members along the U.S.-Mexico border, discouraging would-be immigrants from illegally crossing the border and reporting signs of human traffickers to Border Patrol officers.

A combination of dwindling financial resources, bad publicity, and anti-immigration measures passed by conservative legislatures in border states caused the  influence of these groups on the immigration debate to decline, as was  their ability to sustain a presence along the Southwest border. The Houston Chronicle quotes Mark Potok, a senior fellow at the Southern Poverty Law Center, to say that the number of armed border militias decreased from more than 300 in 2010 to roughly thirty in 2013.

The Chronicle notes that President Barack Obama’s recent executive order to provide work permits to roughly five million undocumented immigrants who have been in the country illegally for years, has caused a resurgence of border militias. Michael Vickers, a 65-year-old veterinarian and leader of Texas Border Volunteers, a 300-man strong border militia, said the group has seen a rise in illegal border crossings along Texas’s border with Mexico. “Everybody’s frustrated. It’s just insane to do what he’s proposing,” he said. “All that’s going to do is create more traffic, more illegal smuggling, more dead bodies in Brooks County. We have absolutely nothing to gain and everything to lose.”

Conservative groups such as NumbersUSA and Heritage Action have urged their supporters to pressure Congress to fight Obama’s plan for illegal immigrants. Other militia groups, including the Oathkeepers and American Patriots, sprung up last summer after hearing news that 60,000 central American children and families crossed the Southwest border.

About seventeen militia groups are active near the Texas border with Mexico. A few are unarmed, simply forming human chains to block immigrants at the border, but some have encouraged violence to discourage border crossers. In July 2014, Chris Davis, a commander of the group “Operation Secure Our Border: Laredo Sector,” said in a now-removed Youtube video, “You see an illegal. You point your gun dead at him, right between his eyes, and you say, ‘Get back across the border or you will be shot.’”

For decades, Texas had displayed an accommodating attitude toward illegal-immigrants. Outgoing-Governor Rick Perry, for example, approved in-state public college tuition for undocumented youths. In recent years, however, the state has adopted a tougher stance to curb illegal immigration. Over $800 million has been spent to increase border security, and Governor-elect Greg Abbott is looking to challenge the legality of Obama’s executive action. The new Lt. Governor Dan Patrick has warned Texans that immigrants “are bringing Third World diseases with them.”

Ira Mehlman, spokesman for the Federation for American Immigration Reform, a Washington, D.C.-based organization advocating limited immigration, believes Obama’s executive action will face more backlash this month when Congress resumes.

A recent Pew Research Center/ USA Today poll found that 50 percent of Americans disapprove and 46 percent approve of Obama’s executive action on immigration. Therefore, it is uncertain how much backing the militia groups will have in Congress. “They have no viable strategy to stop it,” said Frank Sharry, executive director of America’s Voice, a national immigration reform group. “They’ve been exposed as a weakened force that just makes a lot of noise.”