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Group agrees not to harass churches that aid illegal immigrants

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Members of Patriot Movement AZ have agreed to change the tactics they use to protest the practices at some Arizona churches of helping migrants.

In the deal filed Friday in federal court in Phoenix, the group agreed to be permanently enjoined from trespassing on, standing, sitting, blocking or impeding access to any property regularly used by pastors who are members of the Alliance of Christian Leaders and several churches in the Mesa and Phoenix area.

Other provisions preclude members of the organization from:

  • Physically abusing, grabbing, touching or shoving people entering or leaving the buildings;
  • Using any loudspeakers including megaphones, bullhorns and other electric amplifiers;
  • Defacing or vandalizing any of the property used by the pastors and churches.

They also agreed to remain at least 50 feet from any of the facilities while doing any photography, videotaping or other recording.

And the order, agreed to by the group’s attorney, says that Patriot Movement AZ and its members would not state or imply in any forum that any of the organizations that sued are involved in human trafficking, sex trafficking or harboring fugitives.

The lawsuit stems from the practice of Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents dropping off  migrants who crossed the border illegally at Phoenix area churches and congregations. This was particularly true of families as there are restrictions on how long ICE can hold minors in custody.

These churches and their pastors and volunteers have, in turn, offered help, often housing them for a night or two until they could board a bus to meet relatives or sponsors elsewhere.

According to the lawsuit, the members of Patriot Movement AZ and a smaller breakaway group known as AZ Patriots, sought to “intimidate” the churches, their leaders and volunteers “to stop them from assisting the immigrants.” That included trespassing on church property, yelling at people working at the churches and accusing the organizations of aiding those who had committed crimes.

Attorney Larry Wulkan, who handled the case for the Southern Poverty Law Center, said the consent decree and its restrictions – including that 50-foot perimeter to take pictures – is fair.

“Our clients have never tried to do anything to quell the First Amendment rights of anyone who is lawfully protesting,” he said.

“It’s a balancing test,” Wulkan said. “Our clients are focused on stopping intimidation and harassment, not the exercise of free speech.”

The deal also requires Patriot Movement AZ to pay $750 to the individuals and groups that sued. And the court order allows Wulkan and his clients to go back to court and seek a contempt order if any of the terms are violated.

In an electronic message, Patriot Movement AZ declined to comment about the consent decree. A call to the group’s attorney was not returned.

The AZ Patriots organization signed an identical deal last September.


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