The situation on the U.S.-Mexico border is an unprecedented humanitarian catastrophe. In times like these, one’s character is revealed, which is why the response from New Mexico’s political leaders is so disheartening.
The headlines this past month have been alarming. More than 650 people crossing the border were taken into custody in just a couple hours during the early morning of April 30.
International trade through our points-of-entry on the southern border is being choked to a standstill. Meanwhile, interior checkpoints have been shut down because the agents that usually staff those security stations have been reassigned to the border.
According to data provided by the U.S. Customs and Border Protection, from October 2018 through March 2019 border apprehensions of family units — a parent or guardian with at least one accompanying minor child — were up 374 percent from the previous year. In addition, almost 36,000 unaccompanied children were taken into custody during the same period.
Federal facilities have long since maxed out their capacity to house the immigrants and asylum seekers. New Mexico’s communities now are dealing with the overflow. Well, some of them anyway.
Cities like Las Cruces and Albuquerque, where social services are already stretched thin, are being asked to accommodate thousands of asylum seekers. Las Cruces has budgeted $500,000 for emergency support through June 2019. Albuquerque City Councilor Pat Davis would like to use $250,000 from the city’s general fund to create an “asylum coordinator” position.
The wealthier self-described “sanctuary city” of Santa Fe has declined to take asylum seekers, but Mayor Alan Webber promises to send checks.
Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham and U.S. Representative Xochitl Torres Small refuse to admit that we have a crisis. They run from using the words “crisis” and “emergency” faster than Usain Bolt in a 100-meter sprint.
The first step in solving any problem is acknowledging the problem exists. Both of these officials have failed this essential test.
Worse, Gov. Lujan Grisham dared to criticize the federal response to the border crisis while pulling needed National Guard support. Before making her decision, Gov. Lujan Grisham said, “I haven’t seen anything to indicate that we have an emerging crisis here at the border.”
Three months later, she railed against the federal government for not sending more Border Patrol agents to the same area where she pulled National Guard troops.
The Border Patrol can’t hire and train people fast enough to boost their numbers in the field. Former Governor Susana Martinez realized this when she deployed the state’s National Guard to help at the border.
Gov. Lujan Grisham’s decision to reverse Gov. Martinez’s prudent action was a political move designed to downplay the border crisis, but she still wants the feds to treat the situation like an emergency. Her stance is political football at its worst.
In a joint announcement with Gov. Lujan Grisham on Expo New Mexico’s decision to temporarily house immigrants at the state fairgrounds, Albuquerque Mayor Tim Keller praised community members for “coming together where the federal government has failed.”
Meanwhile, on April 15, nineteen Democrat U.S. senators signed a letter asking their leadership to reduce funding for federal immigrant housing facilities. Maybe Gov. Lujan Grisham and Mayor Keller should lecture these nineteen senators on the federal government’s failures and fight to obtain the resources that are needed on the ground to relieve pressure off New Mexico’s communities.
The influx of immigrants streaming towards our southern border isn’t about to decrease anytime soon. The causes of the current situation are multi-faceted and rooted in both foreign and domestic policy matters.
The country needs an honest discussion about the flaws of these policies. We also need real leaders with the political courage to make the bold moves necessary to protect our borders and create an immigration policy that makes sense.
Unfortunately, all we are getting from our state’s top elected officials are soundbites. In the absence of true leadership, our state’s security, our community services, our residents, and immigrants are suffering the consequences.
Rep. James Townsend, R-Artesia, is the House Republican Leader.