Though she said real concerns exist along certain sections of the southern border, Rep. Xochitl Torres Small, D-NM stopped short of deeming the situation a crisis, a term often used by President Donald Trump.
“Anytime you make a blanket statement about the entire stretch of the border, I think you run the risk of oversimplifying it and not addressing the needs,” she said in an interview Friday.
The statement comes as the Trump administration argues that illegal border crossings and the increased numbers of families presenting themselves at U.S. ports of entry are a humanitarian and national security crisis, to justify his recent declaration of a national emergency.
The national emergency declaration would allow Trump to unilaterally transfer funds from disaster recovery and military infrastructure projects for construction of additional physical barriers along the border.
Democrats in the House and some Republicans have passed a resolution to block the state of emergency from taking effect. A similar resolution awaits a vote in the Republican-controlled Senate.
Torres Small said the real concern is ensuring Border Patrol is able to quickly adapt to shifting circumstances and threats. Though the number of illegal crossings are below historic highs, the Border Patrol has had to deal with an influx of families and children, something that has consumed resources.
In places such as the New Mexico Bootheel in the southwestern corner of the state or Antelope Wells, people are showing up and voluntarily presenting themselves to border agents, something that takes up a great deal of Border Patrol’s resources to ensure those people seeking entry go through the process correctly.
In the El Paso sector — which includes New Mexico — needs vary depending on different areas of the border.
Agents within the El Paso sector devise how much resources they allocate to a given portion of the border depending on how long it takes someone to cross the border and then evade capture. In more urban areas along the border, the time it takes is seconds to minutes; in other areas, minutes to hours and in the most remote settings, hours to days.
“So you need a different mixture of technology, infrastructure and personnel in each of those places,” Torres Small said.
Rather than building a wall along all of the southern border, she said she wants to do a mile-by-mile analysis on where it would do the most good.
Two of the most common needs that Torres Small said Border Patrol indicates they need most is more reliable technology and more personnel.
“The CBP (Customs and Border Patrol) is struggling to make sure that it is retaining agents and officers and also hiring new agents,” she said.
Torres Small added that she has introduced legislation with Rep. Will Hurd, R-TX, to make changes to what she said is an outdated leave and overtime structure.
Border Patrol agents currently do not receive overtime pay or paid time off if they undergo specialized training. Those who are in the National Guard also do not get enough paid time off to meet their obligations.
She and Hurd also introduced legislation to require the development of a strategy to recruit and retain Border Patrol agents in remote areas.
“We can spend as much money, appropriate as much money as we want to increase the staffing levels for CBP, but that doesn’t have any impact if CBP doesn’t actually hire and retain these agents,” Torres Small said.
Breaking news reporter Alex Ross can be reached at 575-622-7710, ext. 301, or at firstname.lastname@example.org.