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Editorial: Unprecedented border surge requires a bipartisan examination

The image of U.S. Rep. Yvette Herrell standing in front of stockpiled steel at the U.S.-Mexico border recently was telling. Not a worker could be seen at the remote site in Luna County where contractors have stockpiled steel, rock and old vehicle barriers. Construction equipment sat idle. Trailers sat empty near a collection of portable toilets.

After 450 miles of frenetic construction under former President Donald Trump, President Joe Biden stopped work on the border wall on his first day in office. Biden has not yet announced whether he will resume construction on unfinished segments or say what he will do with the isles of piles of paid steel baking in the sun a few miles east of Hachita.

Herrell urged President Biden to finish the border wall, and called on Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham to deploy the New Mexico National Guard to the border to stem a new, once again unprecedented tide, of migrants. But Biden has indicated no interest in completing the border wall, and Lujan Grisham told Herrell to redirect her concerns to the federal government.

Meanwhile, border agents encountered more than 172,000 migrants in March on the U.S.-Mexico border, a 20-year high. That included nearly 19,000 children traveling by themselves, a record high for a single month. U.S. Customs and Border Protection recently released a video showing two smugglers dropping two young sisters from Ecuador, ages 3 and 5, from the top of a 14-foot barrier near Santa Teresa, New Mexico.

Whether it’s called a “crisis” or a mere “challenge,” some 20,000 children mostly from Central America are currently in federal custody. What it really is, is a tragedy.

And more than 35,000 unaccompanied migrant children are expected by June. They will all require immediate care while authorities search for family members and sponsors in the United States.

Herrell, R-Alamogordo, led a congressional delegation to the Santa Teresa Port of Entry on April 12. Several Republicans on the U.S. House Committee on Oversight and Reform came along to visit El Paso and southern New Mexico and to speak with U.S. Customs and Border Protection personnel, local farmers and ranchers, and select invitees.

The problem? The delegation didn’t include any national Democrats, although it did include Luna County Sheriff Kelly Gannaway, a Democrat whose jurisdiction includes 54 miles of border with Mexico.

In fact, Vice President Kamala Harris – who has been appointed to lead this administration’s efforts in addressing the border migrant issues – has yet to visit the border herself. Instead, Harris has announced plans to visit Mexico and Guatemala to deal with the “root causes” of the influx at border crossings.

Whether it’s a crisis or a challenge, it’s disheartening to see our political leaders of different political parties unable to play in the same sandbox while unaccompanied children are literally being dropped over the wall. Ultimately it is up to Congress to negotiate true immigration reform – that’s the only solution to this recurring problem.

Biden and Harris need to use their clout and behind-the-scenes deal-making skills to push for a bipartisan long-term solution. But first, one of them – or both – should see for themselves the tragedy that is unfolding on the border as we speak.

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.