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New Mexico candidates clash over Trump caravan criticism

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New Mexico candidates clash over Trump caravan criticism


SANTA FE, N.M. (AP) — New Mexico Republicans and Democratic candidates trying to win over voters as November’s midterm elections draw closer ratcheted up their rhetoric Thursday in support and against President Donald Trump’s scathing criticism about the migrant caravan of Central Americans heading through Mexico toward the U.S.

Democratic Sen. Martin Heinrich, who is seeking re-election, accused the president of fear-mongering and stoking an immigration crisis by proposing to cut off aid to Central American countries with citizens heading north. He spoke after officials in Washington announced a decision to call up more National Guard members for deployment to the border.

“Deploying our troops should never be taken lightly and we should not use them for political theater,” Heinrich said in a statement.

His opponent, Republican Senate candidate Mick Rich, accused Heinrich and Libertarian candidate Gary Johnson of supporting open borders. In a social media ad, Rich’s campaign featured video of the caravan with voice saying: “They are coming. By the thousands, they are marching toward our border.”

Johnson said Trump was trying to use the caravan to generate irrational fears that the caravan represents an invasion that is a threat to the U.S. way of life.

“What’s the emergency?” Johnson asked in a statement. “Again, our borders handle millions of crossings every week. If we can’t handle this group, especially when we know they are coming, the only emergency will be one of government incompetence.”

Democratic gubernatorial candidate and Congresswoman Michelle Lujan Grisham said Trump was using wasteful and ineffective military tactics on a caravan mostly made up of defenseless women and children.

“Trump’s political decision to deploy troops to the U.S.-Mexico border will go down as a grossly inefficient use of critical resources and will ultimately undermine our military’s readiness,” said Lujan Grisham in a statement.

Her Republican rival in the race for governor, U.S. Rep. Steve Pearce, said the U.S. should work with Mexico to halt the caravan and that U.S. border security is adequate without more troops. Republican New Mexico Gov. Susana Martinez cannot run for a consecutive third term.

Republican Yvette Herrell, locked in a closely watched U.S. House race for a southern New Mexico seat with Democrat Xochitl Torres Small, said the caravan’s journey represented “acts of aggression” on the border.

“I am frustrated this illegal caravan of migrants is attempting to circumvent our immigration laws leapfrogging all of the Americans who came to this country the lawful way and disrespecting those still waiting in line to become citizens of our great nation,” Herrell wrote on her Facebook campaign page.

Torres Small, the granddaughter of Mexican immigrants, didn’t address the caravan directly but said in a statement that for people who claim asylum, the country should follow a legal process that keeps families together.

In the U.S. House race for central New Mexico, a spokeswoman for Republican Janice Arnold-Jones said the former state lawmaker sees the caravan as an attack on U.S. sovereignty and said the migrants should “get in line” behind other immigrants.

“The caravan is not about immigration. It’s about an invasion,” Arnold-Jones spokeswoman Becky Funk said.

Arnold Jones’ Democratic opponent, Debra Haaland, blamed Republicans for stoking unnecessary fears and said the migrants should be allowed to seek asylum through the U.S. refugee screening system because it “is well equipped to handle a situation like this.”

“My heart breaks for everyone in the migrant caravan,” Haaland said in a statement. “They are fleeing dangerous situations, and are desperate for safety and a better life.”

Defense Secretary Jim Mattis was expected to sign an order as early as Thursday sending 800 or more troops to the U.S.-Mexico border. No details were immediately provided on what breakdown of troops might be sent to Arizona, California, New Mexico and Texas. The governors of those states would have to approve the deployments.

New Mexico already has 188 National Guard and Air Guard troops at the border in response to Trump’s April request for guard members to help border agents.

In the southern city Las Cruces, advocates for immigrants were preparing Thursday to offer temporary housing and donate supplies to the migrants if they decide to enter the U.S. at the nearby border crossing in El Paso, Texas.

Contreras reported from Albuquerque, New Mexico.

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