SUNLAND PARK, N.M./TAOS, N.M., April 23 (Reuters) - A group of armed civilians who have posted videos online showing them stopping migrants who illegally crossed the U.S.-Mexico border will comply with a request to move its base camp in New Mexico, but the group said it plans to relocate its operation to a nearby site.
For two months, members of the United Constitutional Patriots (UCP) have camped next to a railroad track owned by Union Pacific Corp near Sunland Park, New Mexico, which lies in the far southeast of the state on the Texas border.
The camp trailer has served as a base for the small group, which claims to have helped the U.S. Border Patrol detain some 5,600 migrants, most of them Central American families seeking asylum, in just the last 60 days.
Union Pacific on Tuesday said in a statement that the group did not have permission to be on its property and UCP members had trespassed on the company’s land to get to their camp.
UCP spokesman Jim Benvie said a Union Pacific railroad police officer visited the camp on Saturday and the group would abide by the company’s request that it move.
“We have to move our camp,” Benvie said by phone. “We have options in the same area to go to.” The American Civil Liberties Union last week accused the group of illegally detaining migrants, an allegation the group denies.
The small volunteer group says it is helping Border Patrol deal with a surge in undocumented migrants. Civil rights organizations like the ACLU say it is a “fascist militia organization” operating outside the law.
The request by Union Pacific comes after leader Larry Hopkins, also known as Johnny Horton, appeared in court in Las Cruces, New Mexico, on Monday to face charges of being a felon in possession of a firearm. The FBI, which arrested Hopkins on Saturday, said it found guns during a 2017 visit to his home.
Benvie said the group had the support of the U.S. Border Patrol to watch the foothills below Mexico’s Mount Cristo Rey, a popular crossing spot due to a gap in border fencing.
“We wouldn’t be there if they didn’t want us there,” Benvie said. “They just can’t publicly say that.”
El Paso Border Patrol spokesman Ramiro Cordero declined comment beyond a statement by U.S. Customs and Border Protection asking citizens not to carry out law enforcement roles but encouraging them to be its eyes and ears on the border. (Reporting by Andrew Hay in Taos, New Meico, and Julio-Cesar Chavez in Sunland Park, New Mexico; Editing by Frank McGurty and Leslie Adler)