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Local officials urge action on border situation

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Commissioner Cavin, Sheriff Herrington among signers of letter to NM’s congressional delegation

Some local officials are voicing concern about the impact the influx of asylum seekers and people crossing the southern border illegally are having on New Mexico, and have sent a letter urging the congressional delegation to take the action needed to address it.

A bipartisan group of commissioners and sheriffs in nine counties – including Chaves and Eddy counties – signed and sent a letter May 23 to the state’s five-member congressional delegation in which they call the situation on the border a crisis that is reaching the level of an emergency.

The letter, signed by commissioners and sheriffs in Chaves, Cibola, Eddy, Lea, Lincoln, Luna, Otero, San Juan and Sierra counties, goes on to urge New Mexico’s two U.S. Senators and three members of the U.S. House of Representatives to work with President Donald Trump to resolve the situation.

“It is with our constituent’s support and with their well-being in mind that we request you exercise your elected duty to the people whom you serve and act now in overcoming the politics in addressing the humanitarian crisis with no further delay,” the letter states.

Will Cavin, chair of the Chaves County Board of Commissioners, and one of the signers of the letter, said the conversation about the border has been going on between officials in counties along the border for several months.

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“It’s a real crisis, there’s nothing manufactured about it and our legislators out there in Washington D.C need to get to solving the problem,” Cavin said.

The U.S. has had to cope with a surge in South American migrants on its 1,933-mile border with Mexico seeking asylum and a high number of illegal border crossings. U.S. Customs and Border Patrol states the number of people who have been caught entering the country illegally between ports of entry or have presented themselves at ports of entry but were deemed inadmissible has jumped from 58,300 in January to 109,144 in April.

At the El Paso Sector, of which 121,000 square miles is in New Mexico, the number of apprehensions has risen from 9,137 in January to 26,867 in April, according to U.S. Customs and Border Protection.

Cavin and other officials in counties in southeastern New Mexico have said the uptick in migrants seeking asylum have placed a strain on county resources.

Border Patrol agents have been directed away from checkpoints to deal with migrants seeking asylum. Couy Griffin, chair of the Otero Board of County Commissioners who also signed the letter, said that the migrant situation on the border has served as a smokescreen for drug cartels seeking to transport drugs.

“The eye of America is currently focused on migrants while the cartel is doing business like they have never done before,” he said.

Griffin added that numbers from the Otero County Sheriff’s Office show that drug seizures have risen from $3,500 in February to $23,000 in March and $61,790 in April.

The biggest challenge, though, Cavin said, is the strain on county resources in responding to the situation in everything from medical care, to housing, to security.

“It’s just a huge burden and guess who ends up paying for it? The counties,” Cavin said.

Despite being further away from the border than some counties, Chaves County has also seen more drugs, according to Sheriff Mike Herrington, who also signed the letter.

Highway 82 is a known as drug trafficking route and with Border Patrol agents being diverted from checkpoints to deal with the humanitarian needs and migrants, Herrington said drugs are coming up from the southern part of the state. He added his office has also learned about other illegal activity.

“There’s so many different things that are happening: the prostitution, the illegal gambling, just bad things are happening there, and we are being told it is all coming from the south,” Herrington said.

One issue associated with illegal activity along the border is human trafficking. In February, Immigrations and Customs Enforcement raided a stash house south of Roswell, where about 69 Guatemalan and Ecuadorian migrants were found in what an ICE agent described as deplorable conditions. Herrington said he worries that there could be more operations like that in Roswell.

“We just know that Chaves County is 6,000 square miles and we know that there is just a lot of land out there where people can be kept,” he said.

Herrington said that right now, he believes the best thing the federal government could do to help mitigate the effects on counties on or near the border, is to place Customs and Border Patrol agents back at their checkpoints and for Congress to give Trump what he is asking for in terms of funding needed to remedy the situation.

Cavin, a Republican, said he believes the biggest obstacle to addressing the problem is politics. He said he believes many in Washington D.C. — including New Mexico’s all-Democratic congressional delegation — are aware of the dangerous situation on the border but are more interested in denying Trump a political victory.

“And it’s hurting our country, it’s hurting our state, and it’s hurting our county,” Cavin said.

U.S. Rep. Xochitl Torres Small, D-NM — whose district includes the portion of the border that New Mexico shares with Mexico — said the border situation is something that continues to change rapidly.

Because the federal government has been inadequate in its response, local communities and non-governmental organizations have had to step up and are now stretched thin.

“It is time the federal government acknowledge the realities on the ground and pass a DHS (Department of Homeland Security) supplemental that reimburses local governments and NGOs (non-governmental organizations) who are providing shelter and aid,” Torres Small said.

She added that it is important that more judges be appointed to address the immigration backlog and more resources be allocated for Customs and Border Patrol agents.

“The New Mexico delegation is fighting hard for reimbursement and resources for communities and organizations that are dealing with this daily, and we are working for a bipartisan solution for the supplemental funding request to ensure these badly needed dollars make their way to New Mexico communities,” said Sen. Tom Udall, in an email.

Udall added that the federal government needs to provide the necessary humanitarian resources to border communities, address the root issues in Central America that are causing migrant families to risk their lives to seek asylum in the United States and that federal agencies need to better coordinate with local communities.

Breaking news reporter Alex Ross can be reached at 575-622-7710, ext. 301, or at breakingnews@rdrnews.com.

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