PHOENIX: FBI Spies on Immigration Activists

Photo: Protesters in Phoenix block a street near the local ICE office ahead of threatened national ICE raids in July.

By Nélida Tello

Newly-disclosed documents show that the Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI) branch in Phoenix, Arizona is monitoring immigration activists and has been doing so since May 8, 2018.

The activists and organizations under surveillance have been targeted for “monitoring various US Border Patrol activities, right-wing militia groups, and other groups favoring the border wall, mostly to expose human rights violations and communicate threats to humanitarian groups,” according to a disclosed FBI report.

The documents label the activists as “anarchist extremists” and predict an increase in the targeting of US government law enforcement personnel and facilities along the Arizona border. The FBI is concerned with activists arming themselves and employing lethal force despite no evidence in the report to sustain this claim. The report even states that activists are more likely to use “vandalism, destruction of property, and assault with easily accessible items,” than firearms.

Protests over the treatment of migrants have swept the country this year. In July, over 100 people blocked traffic in Phoenix in protest of the Trump administration’s threat to target 10 cities with ICE raids as well as the inhumane conditions of child detention centers.

Since Donald Trump took office in 2017, 24 migrants have died in the care of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), in many cases due to lack of proper medical care. In Yuma, Arizona, migrant children have reported overcrowding, sexual assault, and unsanitary conditions at detention centers. Terrible conditions at these detention facilities are not unique to Arizona but are common across the US.

Under the guise of improving conditions in detention centers, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) landed a $4.5 billion grant in July, approved by both Democrats and Republicans. The greater purpose of this funding was not to improve conditions but to further militarize ICE and Customs and Border Patrol (CBP).

US imperialism has a decades-long history in Central America, one of orchestrating coup d’etats, backing reactionary death squads, exploiting workers and peasants, and plundering natural resources. The consequences of this imperialist legacy reverberate today in every step taken by the migrants who have been forced to flee their home countries, including all those who have dared to cross the treacherous US-Mexico border in pursuit of better lives.

Rightwing militias have taken it upon themselves to serve US imperialism by imitating the CBP. Earlier this year, the United Constitutional Patriots (UCP), targeted 300 migrants in Sunland Park, New Mexico, rounding them up and making illegal arrests while heavily armed. They told the migrants they were CBP.

In an email, CBP stated they did not endorse private groups taking up enforcement matters, despite investigations into ongoing coordination between border patrol agents and the rightwing militias. Larry Hopkins, the alleged leader of UCP, was arrested by the FBI around the same time as the video of his group terrorizing migrants went viral, but it was on charges unrelated to the militia’s activities. None of the charges stuck.

Demands from nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) for law enforcement to “treat the militia actions as a kidnapping offense” fails to understand how border patrol and the rightwing militias that imitate them serve the same class interest. The FBI has targeted some rightwing “extremists” in recent years, but true to its founding mission, the agency has focused on repressing those it perceives as resisting or threatening US imperialism.

While the FBI report is specific to the conditions of Phoenix, Arizona and does not represent the national perspective of the agency, it was distributed across the bureau as well as to other law enforcement agencies. As activists continue to push back against US imperialism at the border and elsewhere, they must cast aside the undisciplined and disorganized ideology of anarchism if they wish to elude the prying eyes of the FBI.