AZ Patriots Are Back To Harassing Migrants At The Border. No One Is Stopping Them.

Jennifer Harrison near the Mexico border in her latest series of videos.
Jennifer Harrison near the Mexico border in her latest series of videos. YouTube
A federal lawsuit over migrant harassment, a felony charge for identity theft, a ban from the Arizona House of Representatives — none of it appears to have deterred Jennifer Harrison, far-right activist and leader of AZ Patriots, from returning to the U.S.-Mexico border to harass asylum-seekers.

In the last few weeks, AZ Patriots released a series of YouTube live streams from the border where its members — including Harrison — videotape migrants, harass them and direct them to border patrol.

AZ Patriots is a group that splintered from the larger “Patriot Movement AZ” back in 2019.

The group claims to be in Yuma County assisting U.S. Customs and Border Protection. It is unclear if CBP actually wants them there, but it is apparent that the agency has made little effort to stop them.

“Why are you here?” Harrison yells at migrants in one video. She films them while standing near the Morelos Dam which holds back the Colorado River and is a well-trodden area for migrants to cross the border.
click to enlarge Jennifer Harrison near the Mexico border in her latest series of videos. - YOUTUBE
Jennifer Harrison near the Mexico border in her latest series of videos.
In her videos, several families with children walk through the marsh, as Harrison berates them and demands answers about their immigration status.

Sometimes, Harrison requests their passports or other identification, which she displays on camera. Members of the group then lead the migrants to sit and wait for border patrol agents to arrive. The videos appear tailored to drum up anti-immigrant sentiment, with captions like “Joe Biden’s Migrant Express!”

Harrison did not return inquiries from Phoenix New Times for this story.

Right-wing militias and vigilante groups that gather along the border often claim that they are working with federal agencies or local law enforcement, to help stave off illegal immigration. In some cases, the groups push QAnon-style conspiracies about child trafficking, which they claim to combat.

AZ Patriots seem to have adopted a similar approach, claiming in the videos and in YouTube comments that they are “helping” federal authorities enforce immigration law. Despite her run-ins with the law, Harrison has long been friendly with border patrol, at one point even going on a ride-along with agents.

But in reality, the legality of the group’s actions is murky — particularly now that AZ Patriots are asking for the identification of asylum seekers and then transporting them to federal agents.

In a statement to New Times, CBP spokesperson John Mennell wrote that the agency “does not endorse or support any private group or organization taking matters into their own hands as it could have disastrous personal and public safety consequences.”

Any attempts to transport migrants “may be viewed as furtherance of illegal entry, which could result in prosecution,” Mennell wrote. Detaining migrants is also an issue: "Forced detention can also be viewed as a criminal offense and violators will be referred to local, state or federal prosecutors for potential legal action," he said.

Freddy Cruz, an analyst with Southern Poverty Law Center who tracks extremism at the border, says that AZ Patriots appear to be engaging in such activity.

“They are, in a way, detaining people and handing them over to Border Patrol agents,” Cruz said.

But while humanitarian aid workers in Arizona have been prosecuted for “harboring” undocumented migrants while trying to provide them water and shelter, right-wing groups like Harrison’s have not appeared to face such punishment.

Border patrol, Cruz told New Times, is “not doing anything to deter a lot of these right-wing extremists from engaging with migrants, trying to act as border patrol agents.”

“They claim they have that authority, but that authority isn’t being exercised,” he said.

At times in Harrison’s videos, Border Patrol vans can be seen in the distance. In one video, she and another member of the group stand with a City of Yuma police officer, looking out at the marsh while they ask him questions about his work.

New Times provided the video to the City of Yuma police department, which denied any relationship with AZ Patriots.

Lori Franklin, a sergeant and spokesperson for the Yuma Police Department, told New Times that Harrison had likely “happened to be there while the officer was there.”

“They may think they're helping [law enforcement],” Franklin said. “I imagine it’s more that they’re thinking they are helping than anything else.”

She also noted that Yuma, which is assisting the Border Patrol through the federal cooperation initiative Operation Stonegarden, has no jurisdiction over federal immigration enforcement.

Harrison’s return to the border marks a renewed focus for AZ Patriots on anti-migrant agitation. The group has been occupied over the last year with “election integrity” issues, such as attending rallies about an audit of Maricopa County votes during the presidential election in November 2020.

Now that the fervor of the presidential election has died down somewhat, the group is back at the border.

Their activity also tracks with what Cruz says he sees along the Arizona border, renewed networking and activity among right-wing vigilante groups, who are pushing an “anti-immigrant, nativist narrative."

But, he emphasized, “they're not being challenged by any federal agency.”
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Katya Schwenk is a staff writer at Phoenix New Times. She previously reported for VTDigger and the Indypendent.
Contact: Katya Schwenk