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Editorial: Forget political sound bites; border is in crisis

While the political chattering class and cable TV talking heads continue to obsess over the Robert Mueller report, in New Mexico we are looking to our southern border as the situation threatens to spin out of control.

Immigrants from El Salvador – Sanni Garcia, 11, left, Estela Enriquez, 14, center, who is traveling alone, and Garcia’s mother, Ymelda Garcia, right, wait with a Border Patrol agent to be picked up after walking into the U.S. near Sunland Park last month. (Roberto E. Rosales/Albuquerque Journal)

Among the most recent developments:

• Federal authorities last week arrested a man who identified himself to the Journal as the “commander” of an armed group camped near the New Mexico border. He was there as a supposed deterrent to the flood of undocumented immigrants pouring into the United States – many presenting claims for asylum – and charged with being a felon in possession of a firearm. The last thing anyone needs is vigilante groups like the “United Constitutional Patriots” packing heat on the border. It’s unacceptable.

And predictable. To millions of Americans, the government has been unable to “defend” our borders, given a system that allows virtually anyone in the world – as evidenced by the hundreds of thousands of people who have crossed the border in recent months – to be released into the U.S. while they wait for their asylum cases to be adjudicated. Historically, only about 13 percent of asylum claims are successful; most of these immigrants will likely end up slated for deportation.

• The man arrested, Larry Mitchell Hopkins, 69, of Flora Vista, was severely injured in a jail incident. His attorney said authorities didn’t properly protect Hopkins and his client suffered broken ribs in a beating. More vigilante justice?

• Construction is expected to begin on a border barrier next month despite several lawsuits challenging President Donald Trump’s emergency declaration to provide money for a wall. Funded with $1 billion being diverted from military projects, the vast majority of the new barriers – 46 miles – is slated for Doña Ana and Luna counties. Much of the construction will replace vehicle barriers with structures 18 to 30 feet tall. Congress tried to block the emergency declaration, but Trump vetoed the legislation.

n The humanitarian crisis is real. The asylum-seekers have been promised by human smugglers that if they get here they can stay. Many are poorly nourished, in need of medical care and with few job skills. It has been up to good Samaritans, church groups – and, in some cases, the taxpayers – to take care of them.

• Otero County declared a state of emergency Wednesday and demanded that Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham return National Guard troops to the border so checkpoints can be reopened. Border agents were pulled to help with the influx of asylum-seekers last month, shutting down the checkpoints that target drugs and other illegal activity.

• That shift of agents has slowed border commerce to a crawl. Wait times for legitimate cargo to cross can exceed 10 hours, crippling the nation’s supply chain that extends far beyond our southern border.

• Albuquerque City Councilor Pat Davis wants to use $250,000 of city taxpayer money to help with the thousands of migrants passing through Albuquerque, who now rely on the kindness of church groups and other nonprofits. It’s well-intentioned but sends the message south to Guatamala and El Salvador: Get here and we’ll take care of you.

It’s impossible not to be sympathetic to these immigrants and their children, especially as you hear the stories and see the faces of those coming through Albuquerque. But the bigger question becomes: Should the City of Albuquerque encourage more to come? With public money? At last check the city had thousands of low-income, at-risk residents and homeless individuals camped in culverts and parks to try to take care of. Even local leaders of groups who have opened their wallets and hearts to asylum-seekers worry the current situation is unsustainable.

• There are plenty of bad people involved. In addition to the human traffickers, drug runners are using the flood of immigrants as a diversion since they tie up Border Patrol manpower. They make the best case for Trump’s wall – other than sending an important message that we do have a border. A recent fatal shootout between federal officers in Arizona and a suspected migrant smuggler packing an AK-47 last week provides a glimpse inside the brutal tactics of traffickers who prey on border-crossers, even holding them to shake down their families.

• Trump is once again threatening to send more armed troops to the border after an incident in which Mexican soldiers confronted U.S. personnel. Mexico blamed the incident on confusion and said it was not looking for confrontation. But again, the mix is toxic.

And as you read this, a massive caravan of approximately 10,000 migrants is expected to arrive in Mexico City this week. The group has been described by Mexico’s Interior Secretary Olga Sanchez Cordero as “carvana Madre,” or roughly translated: “mother of caravans.”

According to news reports, Mexican citizens are much less hospitable to the endless stream, prompting some migrant groups to complain they are now being greeted with hostility. And Mexican officials say they have deported thousands of people this month but thousands more made it past federal officers, intent on traveling to the U.S. – where the messages are conflicting at best, for example, Trump’s wall vs. Councilor Davis’ $250,000 proposal to help undocumented immigrants.

Rep. Xochitl Torres Small, D-N.M., laments the lack of efforts to find a compromise solution but quickly says everyone knows there isn’t an emergency on the border. She’s right on Count 1, wrong on Count 2 – though we can play semantics and substitute crisis, disaster, debacle, etc., to define the situation.

Some resolution is desperately needed, preferably through Congress, but if need be via the president and the courts. Because there is no end in sight to the flood or the unease and political turmoil ripping the country apart.

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.

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