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By Phil Helsel and Natalie Obregon
The FBI on Saturday arrested a man connected with an armed group that has been detaining migrants in New Mexico, the state attorney general’s office said.
Larry Mitchell Hopkins, 69, of Flora Vista, New Mexico, was arrested for allegedly being a felon in possession of a weapon, New Mexico Attorney General Hector Balderas and the FBI said.
The arrest comes after New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham, a Democrat, demanded that members of a militia group, some of whom are armed, stop detaining migrants at the New Mexico-Mexico border.
Balderas said in a statement that Hopkins is “a member of the armed group of individuals reportedly detaining migrants near Sunland Park, New Mexico.”
“This is a dangerous felon who should not have weapons around children and families,” Balderas said in the statement. “Today’s arrest by the FBI indicates clearly that the rule of law should be in the hands of trained law enforcement officials, not armed vigilantes.”
The FBI Albuquerque division said that Hopkins, who is also known as Johnny Horton Jr., was arrested with the assistance of the Sunland Park Police Department.
The FBI said he was arrested on a federal complaint charging him with being a felon in possession of firearms and ammunition. It was not immediately clear what the underlying conviction was.
The FBI said that no other information would be released until after Hopkins has his initial court appearance, which is expected Monday at 10:30 a.m. at U.S. District Court in Las Cruces. The FBI in its statement did not mention anything about an armed group stopping migrants near the border.
Online jail records suggest that Hopkins was arrested by the FBI on a warrant at around midday Saturday.
It was not clear if Hopkins has an attorney who could speak on his behalf. A message left at a number that public records show might belong to Hopkins in Flora Vista was not immediately returned Saturday afternoon.
The governor said this week that “it should go without saying that regular citizens have no authority to arrest or detain anyone,” and that her office and state police would be working with the state attorney general and local police to see what could be done.
Balderas, the attorney general, warned this week that “these individuals should not attempt to exercise authority reserved for law enforcement.”
The American Civil Liberties Union of New Mexico raised the alarm about the arrests by the armed group in a letter sent Thursday to Lujan Grisham and Balderas.
The civil liberties group said in the letter that on Tuesday members of the group arrested nearly 300 people near Sunland Park, and the ACLU posted excerpts of the letter on its website with video that appeared to have been made by one of the militia members.
It was not clear if Hopkins was a member of the armed group calling themselves the United Constitutional Patriots. The FBI did not mention anything about an armed group, and the state attorney general’s office did not specify a group.
The Reuters news agency reported Thursday that the United Constitutional Patriots, made up mainly of veterans, has been patrolling in the area near Sunland Park since late February.
They’ve been posting videos almost daily of members in camouflage and armed with semi-automatic rifles holding asylum-seekers who have crossed the border until Border Patrol arrives to arrest them, Reuters reported.
Customs and Border Protection said in a statement that it “does not endorse private groups or organizations taking enforcement matters into their own hands.”
“Interference by civilians in law enforcement matters could have public safety and legal consequences for all parties involved,” CBP said. “Border Security operations are complex and require highly trained professionals with adequate resources to protect the country.”
Customs and Border Protection said that it welcomes assistance from the community, but encourages anyone witnessing or suspecting illegal activity to call 911 or the agency.
Sunland Park is a city of about 14,100 northwest of El Paso, Texas.
Armed civilian groups have been a fixture on the border for years, especially when large numbers of migrants come, the Associated Press reported. But, unlike previous times, many of the migrants crossing now are children.
In the Border Patrol’s El Paso sector, which has emerged as the second-busiest corridor for illegal crossings after Texas’ Rio Grande Valley, 86% of arrests in March were people who came as families or unaccompanied children, the AP reported.
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