Copyright © 2014 Albuquerque Journal
SANTA FE – Gov. Susana Martinez says President Barack Obama and Congress are to blame for the wave of Central American immigrants – many of them unaccompanied children – that has prompted the opening of temporary housing facilities, including one in southeastern New Mexico.
Martinez said the crisis is, at least in part, the byproduct of mixed signals on the federal level.
“Immigrants flood across the border – or parents drop their children there – expecting the federal government to just throw up its hands and let them in. That’s not an immigration policy – that’s a failure of leadership,” the governor said. “We will continue to push the federal government for regular communication and proper planning relating to the operation of this makeshift detention facility in southeast New Mexico.”
Since the federal government announced its plan for dealing with the influx of immigrants, the first-term Republican governor has spoken with U.S. Department of Homeland Security and Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials to convey security concerns and keep track of developments, a spokesman said.
She has not visited the facility but sent her public safety chief, Greg Fouratt, to tour the converted Border Patrol training center in Artesia where women with children who entered the country illegally are being housed.
“The immigration situation we face today is a direct failure of gridlocked Washington lawmakers and President Obama,” Martinez said in a statement to the Journal .
“I share the frustration that people throughout the state, and in the Artesia area, are feeling,” Martinez added. “In fact, what has been unfolding in border states represents the human consequence of Washington’s dysfunction.”
Late last month, ICE began housing detained female immigrants traveling with children at the converted Federal Law Enforcement Training Center in Artesia.
Artesia Mayor Phillip Burch , after meeting with federal officials Tuesday, said there are now 217 immigrants being held at the center, which he said has a maximum projected capacity of 672 people.
Most of the individuals are expected to eventually be deported to their home countries, which are typically Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador. Some could remain in the United States, if petitions for asylum are granted.
Martinez, the nation’s first female Hispanic governor, has touted the need for federal immigration reform. Some of her own policies in New Mexico – especially her push to repeal the law that allows foreign nationals in the country illegally to obtain driver’s licenses – have drawn criticism from immigrant advocacy groups.
Democratic members of New Mexico’s congressional delegation have criticized leaders of the Republican-controlled U.S. House of Representatives for not holding a vote on a Senate-passed bill that would make changes to the nation’s immigration system.
Rep. Michelle Lujan Grisham, D-N.M., recently told the Journal that Martinez should lobby House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, and other Republicans to put the bill to a vote.
Meanwhile, Rep. Ben Ray Luján, D-N.M., said he was encouraged by Obama’s plan to use his executive authority to circumvent Congress on the issue.
Obama has instructed top-ranking aides to present him with possible executive actions he could take by the end of this summer.
Artesia residents have voiced mixed feelings about the converted training facility being used as a detention center.
Many of the 400 people who attended a town hall meeting last week spoke in opposition to the plan, with concerns ranging from the possible spread of disease to taxpayer costs, according to local news reports.
“I think right now it’s a mixed bag (of opinions),” Burch said in a Tuesday interview. “It ranges from concern to anger to ‘What can we do to help?’ ”
Burch, who spoke with Martinez last week, said there have been no reports of detained immigrants trying to escape from the Artesia center.