Lawmakers in New Mexico are passing legislation to curb paramilitary patrols that have surfaced in recent years to stop migrants at the international border with Mexico and at a protest over a statue of a Spanish conquistador.
The bill places New Mexico among several states considering changes to restrictions on paramilitary organizations this year.
Lawmakers in Oregon and Vermont are also considering initiatives aimed at limiting activities by private militarized groups. Lawmakers in Idaho are going the other way, introducing a bill to repeal a state law banning private militias, despite criticism that the move could dangerously embolden existing paramilitary groups in the region. A limited ban on municipality-led paramilitary groups would remain in place.
Democratic State Representative Raymundo Lara of Sunland Park is a co-sponsor of the New Mexico initiative, saying it gives prosecutors new tools and discretion by making it a crime for armed paramilitary organizations to participate in public patrols that could cause injury or death. cause, with provisions regarding harassment. The bill contains felony penalties, including imprisonment.
The bill emerged Monday from a House committee vetting for a possible floor vote, with the support of Democrats. Republican House lawmakers have expressed concern that the proposal could interfere with neighborhood watch groups responding to crime or limit opportunities for New Mexico companies that have provided tactical training to visiting security forces.
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Lara said the proposal does not violate private firearms training or New Mexico’s relatively permissive gun laws that allow both open carry of firearms and concealed handguns with licensing and training requirements.
“That’s up to the prosecutor, whether they do an investigation … (to) find out if they’re connected in any way, if there’s some kind of chain of command,” he said.
Lara said the proposal responds to incidents in 2019 when armed members of the United Constitutional Patriots stopped migrants near the international border in southernmost New Mexico in Sunland Park, and in 2020 when men with long guns and tactical equipment showed up at a chaotic protest in Albuquerque over a statute of early Spanish settler Juan de Oñate that is both revered and reviled.
Albuquerque Police detain members of the New Mexico Civil Guard, an armed paramilitary group, after shooting a man during a protest over a statue of Spanish Conqueror Juan de Oñate on June 15, 2020 in Albuquerque, New Mexico. (Adolphe Pierre-Louis/The Albuquerque Journal via AP, File)
The armed group in Albuquerque known as the New Mexico Civil Guard was recently barred by a district court judge from operating publicly as a military unit without authorization.
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James Grayson, a deputy attorney general who previously worked on the New Mexico Civil Guard case, told lawmakers this week that prosecutors lack adequate tools to deal with militarized groups that could pose a threat to public protesters and authorized law enforcement officers .
Lara’s bill defines a paramilitary organization as a group of three or more individuals with a chain of command dedicated to publicly functioning as a combat, enforcement or security unit.
Prohibited paramilitary activities also include disrupting government operations or a government process and actions that deprive others of their rights. Paramilitary groups would also be prohibited from falsely posing as peace officers.
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At Sunland Park, the United Constitutional Patriots were finally pressured by local law enforcement to leave amid allegations of trespassing on railroad grounds. One member of the group was convicted of impersonating a federal officer, while another was convicted on federal gun charges.
Armed civilian groups have been intermittently present at the border for years, portraying themselves as U.S. Border Patrol aides and operating in areas where no agents are stationed.