Although the Minuteman Project, a volunteer movement of armed citizens patrolling the Arizona-Sonora border in search of suspected undocumented immigrants, was officially disbanded in 2010, our state could soon find itself once again supported by a citizen militia, if some state lawmakers get their way. However, not unlike similar moves made by Arizona pushing for legislative sovereignty, this project is likely to end up in federal court.
This week the Arizona Senate voted to approve the establishment of a 300 member volunteer citizen force that will be set up to patrol the state’s border with Mexico. The group, the Arizona Special Missions Unit, will be separate from both the Arizona National Guard and the Arizona State Guard, and designed solely to supplement law enforcement in securing the border. Members of the militia group will have the authority to pursue, detain and arrest individuals. And these volunteers will carry guns. The legislature has already made a $1.4 million appropriation for the establishment of this force.
Interestingly, the express purpose of establishing this citizen militia was not stated by lawmakers as preventing undocumented immigrants from entering the country, but rather preventing terrorist activity at the border. According to the Senate panel that approved the bill, Middle Eastern terrorists are actively consorting with criminals along the border and are entering the U.S. through our state. It is the hope of the legislature that placing 300 new volunteers along the border will help combat such terrorist behavior.
Of course, much as the Minuteman drew massive criticism from many in Arizona and throughout the U.S., this latest proposal to establish a citizen militia is being similarly met with outrage and skepticism. One public concern lies in the fact that militia members will only receive 40 hours of weapons training, versus 500 hours received by others in law enforcement. Also, many are concerned how this move may further damage Arizona’s already marred national reputation. Finally, others are simply skeptical that Middle Eastern terrorists are in fact actually operating in the Sonora Desert. And if they are, it is perhaps unlikely that such a small volunteer group could have much of an impact on stopping them.
However, if Arizona continues to move forward in establishing the Arizona Special Missions Unit, it is likely that our state will find itself once again in federal court. According to Clint Bolick of the Goldwater Institute, the legality of such a militia force would depend on how the state uses it. He argues, “If they are simply enforcing Arizona laws, I don’t see that there would a problem. If they are deployed to the border to deal with border issues – probably see another lawsuit.”