Rights Activists Worried About Jan Brewer's Militia Initiative



Arizona is moving closer to establishing an armed volunteer militia to monitor the state's border with Mexico, an initiative that concerns civil rights defenders.

Republican state Sen. Sylvia Allen, the moving force behind the proposal, says that the matter is a public safety matter and that it is the responsibility of the legislature to respond to what she called a "crisis" created by Mexican drug cartels.

If approved, SB 1083 would establish the Arizona Special Missions Unit, which would be under the orders of the state governor and would respond to natural disasters and support security efforts on the border with its members authorized to pursue and arrest people.

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Last year, the state legislature authorized Gov. Jan Brewer to establish a civilian militia, an authority she has not used so far.

The new proposal would obligate the governor to name someone to head the special unit and to give that person the authority to recruit volunteers.

It would also allocate $1.4 million to fund the unit.

SB 1083 was approved on Tuesday by the state Senate Appropriations Committee it is expected that it will be analyzed in the coming days by the full Senate.

The idea of a civilian militia on the border concerns activists like Isabel Garcia, the head of the Arizona Human Rights Coalition, who called the measure "racist" and out of place.

"The state of Arizona is facing a heavy economic crisis, lacks money in the schools and these people are thinking about giving more than a million dollars for a civilian militia," Garcia said in an interview with Efe.

The regulation requires just 40 hours of weapons training for the volunteers, compared with the 500 hours that are required for law enforcement officers and U.S. Border Patrol agents.

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The activist says that the consequences of creating such a unit would be "disastrous" and she fears the possible violations of the civil rights of residents of the border communities.

This would not be the first time that a civilian militia would operate along the Arizona border. In 2005 the self-styled Minutemen, who had no official support or authorization, captured attention on the national level for their activities.

The issue of illegal immigration is once again the subject of close attention by the GOP-controlled Arizona legislature, which is also considering a bill that would obligate the schools to keep records of the number of undocumented students in class.

"It was an important step to remove state Sen. Russell Pearce from office, but as we see there is still a lot for us to do and fight for," said Garcia.

Pearce was the main sponsor of SB 1070, the first law to criminalize the presence of undocumented immigrants in the United States.

He was ousted last November in a recall election.

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