Here’s how New Mexico is helping along the border

March 31, 2019

The recent influx of migrants arriving at our southern border to seek asylum has put an incredible strain on not only federal agencies but on local and state assets in New Mexico’s border counties.

Federal agents have changed the mechanisms for seeking asylum at our southern border in recent months. Migrants who know their asylum requests will be rejected at ports of entry are heading into the open desert — out toward the Antelope Wells area of Hidalgo County, for instance — where they know they have a better chance of being detained by agents on duty during the limited hours of operation.

To be clear, as the governor has stated many times: There is indeed great humanitarian concern in the borderlands. There is not a national security crisis, especially not one that would necessitate a “national emergency,” as the people arriving on our American doorstep are families, children, fleeing violence and starvation and oppression. These people are not threats; they are crying for help. They are not trying to evade law enforcement at the border; they want to be detained so they may make their asylum claims.

As we do not expect the accompanying logistical challenges of border migration to diminish anytime soon, Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham has directed her Cabinet to get to work in finding practical, data-driven solutions to the humanitarian crisis on the border. As a state, it is our duty not to succumb to fear-mongering rhetoric about the migrants who need our help. Instead, the state Department of Homeland Security and Emergency Management has responded in a very calculated way to assist migrants seeking refuge while addressing the concerns of border communities.

Starting in January of this year, Gov. Lujan Grisham and her staff visited different areas of the New Mexico border and spent hours meeting with our federal partners, local ranchers, county commissioners, county managers and emergency managers. Together, we created a multiagency, coordinated effort to identify the challenges on the borders. We meet weekly to discuss our progress and new challenges as they arise.

Large areas of the Bootheel area of our southern border, for instance, have zero communication capability, including cellular connectivity. Our teams are working to improve infrastructure to ensure residents have access to law enforcement entities when need be. Among other multiagency efforts, migration information was shared across groups to better anticipate where migrants would cross and where health and other resources need to be. State Department of Health staff have situated along the border to help alleviate the workload local clinics are faced with and educate residents regarding the very low risk of the disease transmission from migrants to New Mexicans.

This past legislative session, both the House and the Senate agreed there are needs on the border. To that end, more than $7.5 million was approved for the various ongoing projects, with the largest amount dedicated to radio communication towers in Hidalgo County.

The work cannot be done alone. I’m calling on our federal-level partners to help. I will continue conversations with federal Department of Homeland Security leadership about the unmet needs along the New Mexico border. I have also made a formal request for additional federal funding to supplement the millions allocated by the state Legislature.

Disagreements about certain federal immigration policy on the border are likely to continue, but the humanitarian needs should not be swept aside in harmful political rhetoric. Working collaboratively to solve the border challenge is the only way to ensure the safety and security of New Mexicans and to respond to the needs of the vulnerable people who continue to arrive on our doorstep.

Jackie White is secretary of the state Department of Homeland Security and Emergency Management.