Anti-Immigrant Vigilante Patrick Haab Holds Seven Immigrants at Gunpoint

Editorial

On the tenth day of the Minuteman Project, a vigilante effort to shut down human traffic across the Arizona-Mexico border that began on April Fools Day, a man named Patrick Haab was arrested at an Arizona rest stop where officials found him holding seven undocumented immigrants at gunpoint.

Haab, an Army reservist who had just returned from a tour of duty in Iraq, was not a part of the Minuteman Project, but he quickly became a hero and near-martyr to those who were. He was charged that night by Maricopa County sheriff's deputies with seven counts of aggravated assault, a decision that was later strongly endorsed by famously conservative Sheriff Joe Arpaio.

Haab claimed that he had stopped to relieve his dog and then, while walking the animal in the dark, was "rushed" by a group of men emerging from the brush. He said he feared for his life, so he trained a gun on the group and called 911.

Arpaio said that's hogwash.

Among other things, Arpaio said Haab's claim that he was "attacked" does not hold up, because even Haab admitted the unarmed men did not touch or threaten him. Haab's statement that he feared for his life is contradicted by the fact that he then followed them to the vehicle they were meeting, ordering them out and onto the ground while pointing the weapon at them, Arpaio said. And Haab's claim that he had no idea the men were illegal immigrants didn't make any sense, either, because Haab later said he thought they had believed he was a Border Patrol agent.

 

Enter the Prosecutor
Then Arizona politics intervened.

On April 21, 11 days after Haab was arrested and a week after he bonded out of jail, Maricopa County Attorney Andrew Thomas made a curious announcement: Haab would not be prosecuted. Thomas said Haab had the legal right to make a citizen's arrest because the man smuggling the group was committing a federal felony and those being smuggled were also, because they were "conspiring" with the coyote to have themselves smuggled into the country.

It was a remarkable piece of reasoning from Thomas, who campaigned for his office last fall on an anti-immigration platform.

But it was flatly rejected by federal prosecutors who are, after all, specialists in federal law. "Individuals can't be charged with aiding and abetting their own smuggling," a federal official told the Arizona Republic. "If the people being smuggled are only being transported, then there is no conspiracy."

So if Haab had stopped only the coyote, who allegedly did commit a felony, he might have acted legally — if he could show reasonable cause to suspect the felony. In the case of the other six men, however, they committed at most a federal misdemeanor by crossing the border. And Arizona law only allows citizens' arrests for misdemeanors that rise to being a "breach of the peace."

"Mr. Haab's actions risked the lives of the illegal aliens he detained," said U.S. Attorney Paul Charlton, who asked federal lawyers to review the case.


Pulling Triggers?
Meanwhile, Patrick Haab, along with Andrew Thomas, has become a hero to the anti-immigration movement — a role he took on with enthusiasm, appearing on conservative and right-wing radio shows and, at one point, e-mailing supporters about his fears that the country was becoming "Americo."

Haab's case wasn't the first that seemed to reflect a reluctance to prosecute gunmen acting against those they suspect are illegal immigrants. In Cochise County, Ariz., a rancher well known for rounding up groups of illegals was charged with aggravated assault last year by sheriff's deputies for holding a family who turned out to be u.s. citizens at gunpoint. Roger Barnett has never been prosecuted.

These cases form the backdrop for rising anti-immigrant vigilantism in Arizona and around the nation — vigilantism embodied in the Minuteman Project, whose leaders claim to be nonviolent followers of Martin Luther King Jr. In fact, as a story in this issue makes plain, the Minuteman Project was notable for its weaponry, militaristic attitudes and frequent expressions of racism.

Ray Ybarra, who led American Civil Liberties Union legal observers during the project, may have said it best. "The Minuteman Project spread the message that it's a good thing to wear a gun when you're dealing with migrants," he told the Intelligence Report. "The Patrick Haab case spread the message that it's okay to actually point those guns at people. And I think a lot of vigilantes are just waiting for the signal that it's okay to go ahead and start pulling triggers."