Arizona’s Unofficial Border Patrol

As economic forces and drug trade create more illegal immigration over the U.S.-Mexico border, the U.S. has beefed up its law enforcement response in the past decade. And as federal border security has increased, so too has the number of volunteer and militia groups that aim to support the federal efforts. One of these is Arizona Border Recon, founded in 2011 of mostly former law enforcement and former service members. Its members patrol the borderlands, collect intel on the routes of those who cross the border and turn back anyone they deem illegal.

Photographers Cory Johnson and Neil Kremer took these portraits when they spent several days earlier this year with the group during one of their operations. Arizona Border Recon treads a blurry line: Its members are not part of official border patrol but follow their own standard operating procedure that details everything from how they maintain their vehicles to which firearms they are authorized to use. Their website states that “we value human life, and to that extent we will do what we can to help anyone we encounter.” Johnson describes their encounters with people who had crossed the border illegally as “firm but polite.”

Read our 2010 feature on the border, “The War Next Door,” from investigative journalist Charles Bowden.

Recon team members are motivated to join the border efforts for a variety of reasons ranging from political ideologies to personal experiences: “One man lost two family members to drugs and drug violence, so he decided to head to the border to help disrupt the narco trails,” Johnson says. “A few are border activists and this is their way to fight for what they believe. Each person has their own story and reason for being there.”

Kate Schimel, assistant editor

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