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Editorial: Freshman NM lawmaker a voice of reason in desert

Someone forgot to tell U.S. House District 2 Rep. Xochitl Torres Small that she’s supposed to follow the party line when it comes to border issues.

Thank heavens. Now if only she can impart some of her pragmatism on her colleagues.

The southern New Mexico Democrat told the Journal last week that physical barriers can be effective if carefully placed in areas that make sense. That’s contrary to the “immoral” wall position many Democrats have voiced in Washington in recent weeks. And it doesn’t appear to be the one expressed by her fellow members of New Mexico’s congressional delegation.

Just Monday, Sen. Tom Udall criticized President Trump for trying to build “a wasteful, ineffective and offensive wall that New Mexicans” reject in a bill co-sponsored with Sen. Martin Heinrich and others. It would bar the president from building a wall under an emergency declaration.

Torres Small is certainly no proponent of the president’s border wall – “throwing out a number and saying you want to build physical barriers isn’t enough to create real border security,” she says – but at least she acknowledges that barriers can help border security in some places based on the terrain and if carefully planned.

“I’ve seen places where a physical barrier works, because they divide the terrain based on the time it takes for someone avoiding detection to disappear, whether it’s in a car or into urban populations,” she told the Journal.

Unlike Udall and Heinrich, Torres Small can cite her experience of living along the border and her conversations with Customs and Border Patrol that barriers can be effective.

She points out that the last time Congress approved physical barriers “it was based on a detailed plan about how it would be implemented on the ground, with mile-by-mile analysis.” That, of course, was in 2006 under another Republican president, and it had substantial Democratic support.

This time around, Torres Small stresses the need for more border patrol agents but seems to be a lone Democratic voice of reason in a literal desert when it comes to physical barriers. And that’s what’s been missing in the impasse that led to the 35-day partial federal shutdown. And even though the government is back open, at least through Feb. 15, that impasse has shown no signs of ending.

We will no doubt hear the president’s latest proposals tonight during his State of the Union Address, as well as the Democrats’ response, to be delivered by former Georgia gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams. Here’s betting that response includes “no wall money” of any kind.

And this is exactly where common-sense lawmakers with real-world experience, such as Torres Small, should step up and show the leadership needed. They, not the folks a couple of thousand miles away in the Beltway, know firsthand what is going on along the border.

They are the ones in direct contact with border agents, law enforcement officers, ranchers, farmers, undocumented residents and others who are affected by the hundreds of migrants now arriving weekly, as well those trying to transport illegal narcotics. Torres Small says that as chair of the Subcommittee on Oversight, Management and Accountability for the Committee on Homeland Security, she’s also trying to give the Border Patrol the agents it needs to do its job.

Our entire delegation, Sens. Udall and Heinrich and Reps. Ben Ray Lujan and Deb Haaland, along with Torres Small, should be among those leading the conversations – not just providing party-line, anti-wall soundbites – to address solutions to problems their constituents are dealing with.

Because that is who and what they should be fighting for, not a political victory against the other side.

This editorial first appeared in the Albuquerque Journal. It was written by members of the editorial board and is unsigned as it represents the opinion of the newspaper rather than the writers.