The Southern Poverty Law Center has filed a lawsuit in federal court asking a judge to order two right-wing “patriot” groups to stay off the property of local churches in the Phoenix area that provide temporary shelter to asylum-seeking migrant families released by federal immigration authorities.
The lawsuit accuses the Patriot Movement AZ and an off-shoot group, AZ Patriots, of threatening, harassing and intimidating the churches, along with their pastors and their members.
“The defendants do not think these immigrants should be here in the United States at all,” Southern Poverty Law Center attorney David Dinielli said at a news conference. “And so they have taken it upon themselves to engage in an orchestrated intimidation campaign designed to scare the churches into abandoning their humanitarian work.”
The Patriot Movement AZ had no comment on the lawsuit. Efforts to reach AZ Patriots for comment were not immediately successful. The lawsuit was filed Tuesday in the U.S. District Court of Arizona in Phoenix.
In addition to the two groups, the lawsuit names 12 individual members as defendants and two members identified only as John Does 1 and 2.
The Arizona Republic in January documented some of the group’s activities protesting outside a church in Phoenix shortly after ICE had released a group of migrant families there.
Dinielli said the two groups have the constitutionally protected right to protest, but they do not have the right to interfere with the humanitarian work of local churches that have been providing food, shelter and other assistance to migrant families released by federal immigration authorities.
The lawsuit alleges that the groups’ conduct amounts to a “conspiracy to violate” the civil rights of the churches, is racially motivated against Latinos, and amounts to defamation and trespass, he said.
In addition to an injunction, the lawsuit seeks monetary damages, he said.
The churches have called police multiple times when groups have showed up to protest or trespassed on their property, Dinielli said.
By Daniel Gonzales for AZ CENTRAL
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