Copyright © 2019 Albuquerque Journal
Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham has ordered the withdrawal of most of the 118 National Guard troops deployed on the state’s border, but is leaving a small group in the Hidalgo County area.
“I reject the federal contention that there exists an overwhelming national security crisis at the southern border, along which are some of the safest communities in the country,” Lujan Grisham said in a news release Tuesday evening.
“However, I recognize and appreciate the legitimate concerns of residents and officials in southwestern New Mexico, particularly Hidalgo County, who have asked for our assistance, as migrants and asylum-seekers continue to appear at their doorstep,” she said.
New Mexico’s Bootheel has become a busy spot with large groups of Central Americans crossing the border asking for asylum. According to Border Patrol, since October more than 26 groups of 100 or more people have turned themselves in to agents in Antelope Wells. Most are parents with children and unaccompanied minors.
According to Border Patrol, some drug traffickers have used the large groups to time their smuggling operations to when Border Patrol agents are busy taking the families and kids into custody.
Between 11 and 15 National Guard troops will remain in Hidalgo and Luna counties. The Governor’s Office said more could be added depending on an assessment from Gen. Kenneth Nava.
Under the governor’s direction, the Department of Public Safety will temporarily add six New Mexico State Police officers to assist local law enforcement in Hidalgo County. The beefed up patrols are in response to a request from the county manager.
The 118 men and women assigned to the border in New Mexico include 94 from the New Mexico National Guard with the rest from other states. In all, about 2,100 National Guard troops are stationed along the entire United States-Mexico border serving in a support role at the request of President Donald Trump last April.
They do not apprehend people illegally crossing the border or stop drug smugglers. Border Patrol is responsible for law enforcement. The guard members in New Mexico help CBP officers at the Santa Teresa port of entry with cargo inspections by unloading trucks and help do maintenance on Border Patrol vehicles.
The guard also provides air support.
The enhanced mobility serves as a force multiplier, according to officials with the Border Patrol’s El Paso sector, which includes all of New Mexico.
“Together with units from Arkansas and Kentucky, New Mexico National Guard helicopter crews have been patrolling vast areas of the border from Santa Teresa to Lordsburg,” the Border Patrol noted in a statement provided to the Journal last month. “This expands our situational awareness and allows us to cover much more ground than we would be able to using our own assets.”
On Tuesday, Lujan Grisham directed that the troops from Arkansas, Kansas, Kentucky, New Hampshire, South Carolina and Wisconsin who are working with the New Mexico National Guard on the border “return to their home states immediately.”