A senator who believes Middle-Eastern terrorist groups are active in Mexico and Central America persuaded her colleagues to advance a proposal that would create an armed volunteer force to help apprehend criminals who illegally enter the United States.
The Senate passed the measure today by a vote of 20-10.
The proposal now heads to the House, which must also approve it before it is sent to the governor’s office for her signature.
The bill, SB1083, will establish an “Arizona Special Missions Unit” that can be deployed to help secure the southern border and aid local law enforcement in combating international crime. It can also respond to disasters.
The unit, which would receive $1.4 million each year, would be under the control of the governor and be separate from the Arizona National Guard.
It would be authorized to pursue, detain and arrest criminals, and also seize property.
Snowflake Republican Sen. Sylvia Allen, the bill’s sponsor, tweaked the legislation today to only authorize pursuit of criminals on federal lands if a memorandum of agreement exists between Arizona and the federal government.
Additionally, the unit is required to report each year to lawmakers and the governor about property it has seized and how it is disposed of.
Sen. Steve Gallardo, a Democratic from Phoenix and a fierce critic of the idea, said the bill creates a state-sanctioned militia.
“This is a vigilante group. That’s what we’re creating right now — a state-sanctioned vigilante group,” he said.
But Allen said it’s “pure propaganda” to insinuate that it would be some out-of-control and untrained militia.
Allen said it would be a highly-trained and highly-organized force that would take part in helping to check the threat on the border.
Allen earlier repeated claims that terrorist organizations based in the Middle East have formed alliances with drug cartels to the south.
“We are being invaded by criminals who have formed alliances with (Middle Eastern) terrorists who use violence in the most evil of ways to intimidate, control and protect their drug- (and) human smuggling multi-billion dollar business,” she said when the bill was heard by a Senate committee.
In an earlier committee hearing, Allen specifically mentioned Hezbollah. She also referred to reports that the group is training Mexican drug cartels.
This week, she reiterated that there’s “ample evidence” of terrorist activity, including by Hezbollah, coming across the border.
She cited remarks made by Michael Braun, former chief of operations for the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency, to a Congressional committee early this month about the growing presence of terrorist organizations, including Hezbollah, south of the border.
Allen isn’t the only one who is making claims about the presence of Hezbollah in Latin America.
But the Pulitzer Prize-winning PolitiFact, which looked into the claim, said while there’s some evidence that the group’s sympathizers and fundraisers are working in the tri-border area between Brazil, Argentina and Paraguay, and perhaps it even has recruiters and trainers in Venezuela, there’s little evidence that the Hezbollah is “working” in Mexico.
PolitiFact also said there’s even less public support for the idea that the group’s presence poses a “very significant threat” to the U.S, adding the U.S. State Department says there are no known operational cells of al-Qaida or Hezbollah in the Western hemisphere.
SB1083 was narrowly approved by the Appropriations Committee, 7-6, after a spirited debate on Feb. 20.
The current bill is more stringent about recruitment than when it was originally introduced.
Like the earlier version, the one that was given preliminary approval today says that recruits must be citizens or legal residents who have declared their intention to become citizens.
Also, individuals who have been dishonorably discharged from any military force in the U.S. are barred from volunteering.
Volunteers must also submit fingerprints for a state and federal criminal records check.
They are also subject to psychological screening and polygraph testing to ensure they’re fit for the job.