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Immigration, economy on commissioners’ agenda

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Proposed resolutions would clarify county positions on statewide issues

Chaves County commissioners are scheduled to address immigration and state economic development issues during their Thursday meeting.

The packed agenda of 28 items includes two proposed resolutions that, if passed, would make official the commissioners’ position on two statewide issues. One resolution would ask that border checkpoints be reopened and declares that county resources will not be used to provide asylum to immigrants, and the other would urge state officials to pass legislation to improve the economic situation of the county and New Mexico.

Both are resolutions, not ordinances that require public hearings or the soliciting of public comment prior to voting, but Bill Williams, director of public services, said that the intent is to decide on a unified stance by county officials and to communicate with county residents and New Mexico state legislators and the governor’s office what the county thinks should be done.

Proposed Resolution 19-026 would declare that the county will not “allocate or use any county resource or property for relocation or placement of asylum-seekers in Chaves County.” It also would request that the federal government reopen the border checkpoints in New Mexico and West Texas.

In March, U.S. Customs and Border Protection closed five New Mexico checkpoints and one in West Texas, as officials were reassigned to deal with migrants.

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“We are trying to have a unified approach,” Williams said. “There are several counties in New Mexico who are needing help and action. We are just seeing a real problem here. Our sheriff recently rescued over 70 people on two separate occasions, our sheriff and other law enforcement officials. It is just a real problem we have with drugs, gangs and human trafficking. We are just trying to have a positive influence along with other counties that are desperately seeking help.”

Chaves County Sheriff Mike Herrington concurred that the issues are significant.

“I agree that the closure of the Border Patrol checkpoints has increased both the presence of illegal immigrants and drugs in Chaves County,” he said. “We have located stash houses where human trafficking is occurring. We know that drugs and counterfeit money is also being moved at the same time.”

On June 14, Chaves County Sheriff’s Office and federal law enforcement found seven undocumented Guatemalan men believed to be part of a human trafficking operation in a house south of Roswell. In February, they found 67 Guatemalan and Ecuadoran people, including some teenagers, held in Dexter.

Williams said the county is concerned that they do not have the resources both to care for undocumented immigrants and to deal with all the other criminal issues that occur when U.S. Customs and Border Patrol personnel are reassigned and checkpoints are closed.

“We need to focus our efforts on keeping the people who live here safe and secure,” Williams said. “The asylum seekers, although they are in dire straits, we have to protect and serve our county and public safety before we can do that.”

An El Paso nonprofit shelter, Annunciation House, said in May that 1,000 migrants were crossing the border into Texas and Las Cruces. Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham made arrangements then for some of the migrants needing shelter to go to Dallas, Texas, and Denver, Colorado. Various press reports have indicated that Deming has housed about 7,000 migrants since May, with the daily costs of $15,000 or more being paid by the city, county and state, as well as donations.

The other proposed county measure, Resolution 19-025, seeks many actions by the state Legislature and the governor to improve the state’s economy.

Calling New Mexico “an island of poverty surrounded by states that are flourishing economically,” the resolution urges legislation that would fund a study by a private economic development firm to determine what hampers economic prosperity, that would pay for more economic development officers to serve counties and that would make the state less dependent on federal government funding and the oil and gas industry.

“This resolution is demanding a proactive approach by the governor and the Legislature in finding solutions to these problems that affect us all as New Mexicans,” Williams said.

Williams indicated that the issue of funding by the commissioners to the local Roswell-Chaves County Economic Development Corp. was a separate one.

Commissioners voted in May to give the group only $25,000 for 2019-20, when the group had requested $75,000. The amount was below the funded amount for the prior year and below the $57,500 that the commissioners voted to give the Roswell Chamber of Commerce, which also performs some economic development activities.

Williams, reiterating a point made by commissioners, said the budget allocation for the EDC could change and said the recent funding decision reflected a difference of opinion about the direction and activities EDC should be concentrating on.

“They are currently drafting a new agreement with EDC and, of course, they are seeking a new director,” he said. “Once that is done, we truly foresee us being able to get back into full support of the EDC.”

A search committee has been formed to find a new president for EDC after the former person resigned in May.

Williams also said the line in the resolution that requests actions to create a “robust economy that will enhance individual, family and community fortunes” sums up the goal.

“I think that is something we are all seeking here,” he said. “I have kids and they have moved away. They are not in Roswell anymore. … I think there are probably a whole lot of people in New Mexico that wish that we could provide the things that would keep our young people here and building the state for their futures.”

The meeting is scheduled for 9 a.m Thursday at the Chaves County Administrative Center, 1 St. Mary’s Place.

Senior Writer Lisa Dunlap can be reached at 575-622-7710, ext. 311, or at reporter02@rdrnews.com.

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Lisa Dunlap is a general assignment reporter for the Roswell Daily Record.