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New Mexico official says no to working with US border agency

New Mexico Land Commissioner Stephanie Garcia Richard

The head of the New Mexico State Land Office on Friday declined to add her signature to the renewal of a cooperative agreement with U.S. border authorities.

Land Commissioner Stephanie Garcia Richard said she instead is siding with community members who urged her not to work with U.S. Customs and Border Protection over concerns about discrimination against people of color along the Mexican border.

Garcia Richard and fellow Democrats in New Mexico have been critical of the Trump administration’s border policies. The agreement, first executed in 2015 under the Obama administration, also covers Arizona, California and Texas and involves other federal land management agencies, state historic preservation offices and tribal governments in California, Arizona and Oklahoma.

Garcia Richard contends that other tribes that have expressed cultural ties to the border region haven’t been included. Her office pointed to the Navajo Nation, the Hopi Tribe and Mescalero Apache, among several others.

“We know consultation is not the actual intention of this document and the Land Office won’t give cover to border abuses,” she said in a statement.

Aside from voicing her support for tribes, she said she stands by immigrants, refuses to support federal immigration authorities’ operations along the border and opposes the construction of the border wall.

As required by federal law and internal directives, CBP officials said they work with other federal agencies, tribes, state agencies and nongovernmental groups to meet environmental regulations as well as commitments to cultural stewardship and the protection of cultural resources.

But critics argue there are loopholes that allow CBP to control what ultimately happens on state trust land and other nonfederal lands along the border. They pointed to recent legal battles over waivers and other maneuvering that have cleared the way for work to move ahead on portions of the border wall.

The disputed agreement says CBP shall coordinate with affected parties as early in the project development process as practical and that alternative methods, routes and locations will be part of the discussion to avoid or minimize the effects on historic properties.

It also says that CBP will cooperate with the parties to comply with the National Historic Preservation Act, and that tribes and other land managers shall provide as much information as possible about cultural sensitivity concerns, the nature and location of any historic properties and whether traditional cultural properties are present within 60 days of being requested.

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