PHOENIX — An attorney for the Patriot Movement says the group and its members can’t be sued in federal court for harassing migrants and those helping them because the plaintiffs are aiding them in violating federal immigration laws.
In a new court filing, Edward Rose Jr. says volunteers from churches and nonprofit organizations are acting with “unclean hands” in their lawsuit against Patriot Movement AZ. What that legal doctrine means, in essence, is that those who are complaining about the activities of Patriot Movement members cannot seek relief from the courts because they, too, have done something wrong.
“We had these immigrants,” Rose told Capitol Media Services.
“As you know from all the reports, they’re all falsifying claims of political asylum,” he continued. “And I think the plaintiffs knew that and they still aided them.”
Larry Wulkan, one of the attorneys representing the churches and the volunteers, said there’s no basis for such a claim.
“Our clients provided food, clothing and basic medical care to people who are in this country with permission of the United States government,” he said, having been dropped off by Immigration and Customs Enforcement. “It’s incredible to suggest that the defendants should be excused from breaking the law under such circumstances.”
But the claim of unclean hands isn’t the only basis on which Rose is asking U.S. District Court Judge John Tuchi to throw out the case.
He said any of the things his clients did at and around the churches are protected by constitutional guarantees of freedom of speech, freedom of expression and freedom of association.
Rose also says that any of the things of which Patriot Movement members are accused actually were on public property or in a public forum, not that he was admitting such activities occurred. And he has a backstop if that claim work, saying that if there was any intrusion onto private property that the plaintiffs — the churches and their volunteers — actually consented to them being there.
He also said that the plaintiffs cannot claim they are the victims of defamation and have had their right of privacy invaded because they are public figures.
The lawsuit, filed earlier this year by the Southern Poverty Law Center on behalf of the Alliance of Christian Leaders, claims that members and supporters of Patriot Movement AZ interfered with churches and volunteers in the Phoenix area who provide immigrants and families with food, clothing, basic medical care, temporary housing and assistance with transportation to their U.S. sponsors. These are immigrants who initially were detained by ICE but were subsequently released from custody.
According to the lawsuit, members of Patriot Movement and AZ Patriots, a separate group, began going to the churches last December where the migrants have been dropped off “to intimidate plaintiffs and others to stop them from assisting the immigrants.” Their activities include taking and uploading videos of the activities, coming close to the volunteers, “often only inches away, and yelled in their faces.”
There also were claims of filming people on private property and taking photographs through barriers, including climbing on walls and peeking over or through fences and windows.
The attorneys for the church groups say that when immigrants arrived, members of the groups yelled insults at them, told them to leave and accused the church workers and volunteers of criminal conduct, including sex trafficking or human trafficking, and of profiting financially.
Rose represents the Patriot Movement AZ and its members.
In September, members of the smaller and separate AZ Patriots organization agreed to a settlement, promising to stop harassing migrants and the volunteers. They also agreed to stay off the property of the churches, not to block access to the facilities, not to touch anyone entering or leaving the properties, not to use bullhorns, megaphones or amplifiers, and not to photograph or film anyone while standing within 50 feet of the churches.
Of particular note is the promise by the defendants who settled they will not state or imply that any of the churches or people who work with them are involved in trafficking or harboring fugitives.