Copyright © 2018 Albuquerque Journal
New Mexico candidates running for the U.S. Senate and in the state’s southern 2nd Congressional District are divided over President Donald Trump’s plan to send additional troops to the border to stop a caravan of Central American migrants.
On Monday, the Pentagon announced that it would send 5,200 troops to the border to help block migrants from crossing illegally.
The caravan once numbered roughly 7,000 people, but that number is now estimated to have fallen to roughly 3,500 as some migrants decide to stay in Mexico. At least 1,500 people have applied for asylum in Mexico, according to the UNHCR.
Another caravan of roughly 600 migrants has formed on the border between Guatemala and Mexico, according to the Associated Press.
The Journal asked the five candidates last week whether they supported using the military to stop the caravan at the U.S. border. Three said they supported sending troops to the border, and two opposed such a move.
“Deploying our troops should never be taken lightly, and we should not use them for political theater,” said incumbent Sen. Martin Heinrich, a Democrat. “We need to ensure our border communities are safe, but militarizing the border is clearly not the answer.”
Mick Rich, his Republican opponent, disagreed.
“I 100 percent support what President Trump is doing,” he said. “These 5,000 to 10,000 people from Central America are an invading force marching to our border with the intent to force their way into the United States.”
Like Heinrich, Libertarian candidate Gary Johnson criticized the president’s plan, calling it an “inappropriate” use of the nation’s troops.
“Sending our troops to repel an imaginary invasion is nothing more than political theater,” he said. “It makes no one safer, inflames an already overheated issue and is an inappropriate use of our amazing men and women in uniform.”
Yvette Herrell, the Republican candidate running for the open seat in New Mexico’s 2nd Congressional District, which runs along the border, is in favor of the president’s plan.
“I do support President Trump in sending military personnel to assist with the securing and protection of our border,” she said. “It is a constitutional responsibility to protect the health, safety and welfare of the United States. Without secure borders, we have no country. America’s sovereignty is at stake.”
Xochitl Torres Small, her Democratic opponent, favors sending troops to help Border Patrol, but in a support role.
“Our agents are spending too much time on paperwork, rather than stopping violent criminals and traffickers from crossing the border,” she said. “I support sending additional help to the border to process asylum claims, but that shouldn’t distract us from the real, long-term solutions we all need.”
The caravan has drawn the ire of the president, who on Monday tweeted: “This is an invasion of our Country and our Military is waiting for you!”
Trump called for National Guard troops on the border in April as he battled with Congress to get billions of dollars to build a border wall. There are now roughly 1,200 troops on the border – 72 in the El Paso Border Patrol sector, which covers the border along a corner of West Texas and all of the border in New Mexico. The troops serve in support roles, including monitoring cameras, doing maintenance on vehicles and tending to horses used by mounted agents.
The duties of any additional troops are not clear. Border enforcement – including apprehending people crossing illegally – is handled only by Border Patrol agents.
Most of the Central American families crossing the border ahead of the caravan go up to agents to ask for asylum; others arrive at legal ports of entry seeking asylum. They say they are fleeing violence in their home countries.
The number of Central American families “apprehended” by the Border Patrol set a record in September at 16,658 family units, according to Customs and Border Protection.
But overall migration has steadily dropped and remains near a 50-year low. There were 396,579 apprehensions along the border in fiscal 2018 through September, according to CBP.
The caravan that started in Honduras is slowly making its way through southern Mexico, with migrants on foot catching an occasional ride.