Copyright © 2019 Albuquerque Journal
SANTA TERESA – Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham visited the border on Friday to get a firsthand look at conditions and gather data to decide whether to withdraw New Mexico National Guard troops.
“I haven’t seen anything to indicate we have an emergent crisis here on the border,” Lujan Grisham told a news conference after her tour.
The visit included a briefing from Customs and Border Protection officials in Sunland Park and a meeting with New Mexico National Guard leaders and troops in Santa Teresa.
The CBP briefing and visit to the Santa Teresa Port of Entry were closed to the media, but the governor met with reporters after the tour.
She also had an opportunity to see Border Patrol holding cells on Friday morning when there were 32 people in custody. Half were children, the governor said.
“What we are seeing are individuals fleeing violence, and it’s predominantly women and children,” Lujan Grisham said.
The El Paso Border Patrol sector, which includes all of New Mexico, has experienced a spike in families from Central America seeking asylum. Two children from Guatemala died in Border Patrol custody in New Mexico in December.
The governor said she had “long been concerned” about detention facilities, but during her brief visit to the Border Patrol holding cells, “I did not see in the few minutes that I was there anything that gave me serious concern in that moment.”
The governor noted that illegal crossings are at “historic lows” and said she asked CBP officials for “better data” to compare year-to-year apprehensions and drug seizures to decide whether to keep New Mexico National Guard troops on the border.
“I think this calls for a re-review, making sure we agree what constitutes an emergency, what constitutes a crisis, whether or not we’re seeing real crisis emerge at the border, and how we should be using all these assets,” Lujan Grisham said.
The governor said she expects to decide within a month whether to reduce the number of troops or withdraw the National Guard altogether based on her fact-finding trip and data from CBP.
“I asked for more data because I want to make sure that any decisions I make … are based on facts and based on the best interests of New Mexicans.
There are 118 National Guard troops in a support role on the border.
“I really want to thank the guard for coming to the call of New Mexicans and the country, being where they need to be, and regardless what the situation is, acting in a professional and productive capacity making every single New Mexican proud,” Lujan Grisham said.
Then-Gov. Susana Martinez deployed the troops, at the request of President Donald Trump.
Lujan Grisham also questioned the focus by the president on a border wall as the solution for border security.
But Otero County Commissioner Couy Griffin said, “The barrier is the only way that we can somehow control those who don’t obey our laws, those who don’t have any regard for our legal system.” He said he drove from Alamogordo to attend the governor’s news conference.
“We’re reaching out to make sure we fill those gaps in law enforcement and related issues in your county,” the governor told Griffin.
She said she disagreed that a physical barrier is the only way to secure the border. She also said asylum seekers should be allowed to make their claims as provided by the law.
“I’d love to see New Mexico lead by example. We will meet our constitutional obligation, and we will make every effort to secure the border in a meaningful way that not only protects New Mexicans but the entire country,” Lujan Grisham said.