Academic journal article The Journal of Gender, Race and Justice

How the Scope of States' Citizen's Arrest Statutes Affects the Activity Level of Vigilante Groups on the U.S.-Mexico Border

Academic journal article The Journal of Gender, Race and Justice

How the Scope of States' Citizen's Arrest Statutes Affects the Activity Level of Vigilante Groups on the U.S.-Mexico Border

Article excerpt

I. INTRODUCTION

Vigilante movements are frequently characterized as a group of persons who defend their viewpoints, often through the use of force, against those who oppose their views.1 These views generally relate to "the defence [sic] of power, property and other 'bourgeois' interests."2 The vigilante movement in the United States is not a new phenomenon;3 it has been a part of the landscape of the United States since before its separation from Great Britain.4 In recent years, there has been a renewed focus on these citizen groups.5 Part of this escalating interest is due to increasing numbers of undocumented workers immigrating to the United States, as well as the lack of response from Congress on U.S. immigration policy.6 One response has come from individual citizens taking action on the border.7 Historically, "such armed volunteer patrol groups were almost universally considered dangerous, vigilante racists on the fringe of society."8 That image does not necessarily exist today.9 While some might question the connection between vigilantism and immigration policy, this Note will demonstrate that they are inseparable in the United States. As the vigilantes declare, their purported goal is to do for the United States what the government cannot or will not do with immigration,10 a proposition supported by the failure of comprehensive immigration reform in Congress during the summer of 2006.11 How do the vigilantes accomplish their goal and under what legal guise do they act?

This Note will examine the role of citizen's arrest statutes in legitimizing and legalizing the vigilante movement as well as how the scope of citizen's arrest statutes could have a dramatic impact on the activity level of vigilantism in the border states of Texas and Arizona. The common law provided for the privilege of citizen's arrest, and it is found in some form in every state.12 Both Texas and Arizona are known nationally for their vigilante movements;13 both states are also known for the large numbers of undocumented immigrants that pass across the Mexican border and into them each year.14 While Congress has been contemplating what direction to take in the immigration debate,15 even taking failed steps to pass immigration reform,16 citizens' groups have been mobilizing in order to take the law into their own hands.17 One way they do this under the guise of legality is through citizen's arrest statutes.18 How these groups operate, as well as the authority under which they operate, will continue to gain importance as more civil and criminal suits are brought against themespecially after the success of two undocumented immigrants in their suit against a vigilante group and a ranch owner.19 Part II of this Note focuses on the historical underpinnings of the vigilante movement in the United States. Part III discusses Arizona's and Texas' respective citizen's arrest statutes and their potential impact on vigilante activism. This analysis will demonstrate that not only is the vigilante movement more active in Arizona,20 but that the activity level there is related to the scope of Arizona's citizen's arrest statutes. Finally, this Note will conclude with recommendations for the scope of citizen's arrest statutes in light of the immigration debate. Due to the failure of comprehensive immigration reform and the consequential increase in immigration enforcement on the government level, vigilantes may take this opportunity to increase their activities on the border under the guise of supporting popular U.S. attitudes toward immigration. If citizen's arrest statutes are expanded as an affirmative defense, the vigilante groups will have both an emotional and legal impetus to increase their often violent behavior on the border.

II. A HISTORICAL OVERVIEW OF VIGILANTISM IN THE UNITED STATES

Before considering the role vigilante movements have historically played in the United States, it is important to understand what the term vigilante means. …

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