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Commissioners vote on border, immigration issues

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Commissioners vote unanimously Thursday for a resolution that denies county resources to immigrants seeking asylum and requests that the U.S. Border Patrol reopen checkpoints in New Mexico and West Texas. Commission Chair Will Cavin, left, presides over the meeting. To his right is Bill Williams, director of Public Services for Chaves County. (Lisa Dunlap Photo)

Resolution seeks reopening of border checkpoints; asserts no county support for asylum-seekers 

Five county commissioners held no discussion Thursday before voting unanimously to adopt a resolution that asks the U.S. Border Patrol to reopen checkpoints in the area and asserts that commissioners will not allocate any resources or property to aid immigrants seeking asylum.

But after the vote, Sheriff Mike Herrington said that he appreciated the commissioners’ decision.

He explained that his department has been working with federal agencies regarding recent calls involving immigrants and possible human trafficking.

A June incident found seven Guatemalan adults and minors kept in a house south of Roswell, according to prior Sheriff’s Department reports, while a February incident located 67 people, including teens, from Guatemala and Ecuador in Dexter.

“I want to say thank you to Homeland Security, ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) and the Border Patrol for being so cooperative and assisting the Chaves County Sheriff’s Office with our 6,000 square miles of land that we have here in Chaves County,” Herrington said. “We go out and we do welfare checks and we find illegal immigrants in our community, and they are fast to help us out. One of the things that I do know is that ICE and Homeland Security have been told that local agencies will not work with them, and that is not the case. And they work very well with us. And we will work with them to keep Chaves County safe and also to make sure that the people who they are trafficking, either for sex, for labor or whatever it is — even if it is for asylum — it is the duty, my goal is to make sure that these people are safe and being treated right and taken back to wherever they need to be taken to. … We are not in the immigration business, but we are in the business of protecting people and we are also in the business of making Chaves County safe. So I want to say thank you to them (federal agencies) and also thank you to all of you commissioners, every one of you, for approving that.”

According to Herrington and Clay Corn, administrator of the Chaves County Detention Center, immigrants are sometimes detained in Chaves County, but they said Homeland Security typically moves them quickly.

Resolution No. 19-026 “calls upon the United States Border Patrol to reopen the border checkpoints located in New Mexico and West Texas” and states that “public safety and constituent services are paramount” and that the “Board of County Commissions of Chaves County will not allocate or use any county resources or property for relocation or placement of asylum-seekers in Chaves County.”

The resolution also claims that the closed checkpoints have led to increased drug trafficking, gang activity and other criminal incidents in New Mexico.

In response to questions about the closures and the commissioners’ request, a Border Patrol spokesman issued an email statement:

“The United States Border Patrol (USBP) continues to apprehend illegal alien families and unaccompanied children in steadily increasing numbers,” Roger Maier wrote. “To process and ensure appropriate care for those in custody, resources, including personnel, have been diverted from other border security priorities. Currently, El Paso Sector has shut down immigration checkpoints and moved agents to assist with the processing of these aliens. This is intended as a temporary measure.”

The El Paso Sector includes all five checkpoints in New Mexico, including the Deming and Las Cruces checkpoints along Interstate 10, and one in West Texas.

As commissioners were making their decision, the U.S. House and the Senate passed a $4.6 billion southern border aid package Thursday.

According to information from the office of New Mexico Sen. Martin Heinrich (D-Albuquerque), between $30 million to $60 million was earmarked to reimburse local governments and non-governmental organizations in U.S. border issues for food, housing and other assistance provided to immigrants asking for asylum, with reimbursements going back to Jan. 1. That provision, to be funded through a Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) program, also was supported by Sen. Tom Udall (D-Santa Fe).

Aaron Morales, a press secretary in Heinrich’s office, said that the exact amount available for reimbursement was to be negotiated as part of the final bill.

The aid legislation is now due to be considered by President Donald Trump.

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