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Martinez on immigration: ‘The rhetoric isn’t helpful’

Copyright © 2017 Albuquerque Journal

LAS CRUCES – As federal immigration authorities launched raids in at least half a dozen states this past week, the nation’s only Latina governor said enforcement policies should distinguish between the “various situations” of people living in the country illegally.

“I think the rhetoric isn’t helpful,” Republican Gov. Susana Martinez told the Journal Saturday in Las Cruces. “I have lived literally on the border for 50 years. It is a very different view from even northern New Mexico, much less from Washington, D.C., on what actually happens on that border.”

Underscoring that she has long opposed efforts to make New Mexico a “sanctuary” for undocumented immigrants, Martinez likewise warned against allowing harsh rhetoric to get ahead of policymaking that should treat “multiple problems” in immigration policy with “multiple answers.”

Gov. Susana Martinez

Gov. Susana Martinez

“I would love to see our leadership come up with a solution,” she said. “It’s not just one answer for all problems. Definitely, those that commit crimes in this country do not belong in this country. They need to be removed. Someone who doesn’t have a home to go to (outside this country), who has worked and paid their taxes, and been involved in the community and has an American child … what is the solution for that? How different is that from someone who is dealing drugs? There could be various answers to the various situations.”

The governor has often taken a more moderate tone on immigration at the national versus state level; she faced criticism from immigrants rights groups for her push to repeal the 2003 state driver’s licenses law.

President Donald Trump’s Jan. 25 executive order authorizing construction of a border “wall” also directed federal departments and agencies “to prevent further illegal immigration into the United States, and to repatriate illegal aliens swiftly, consistently and humanely.” The order did not restrict immigration enforcement to unauthorized immigrants convicted of violent crimes – as had been the policy for the past few years under the Obama administration.

U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents rounded up hundreds of unauthorized immigrants last week during enforcement operations in Los Angeles, Atlanta, Chicago, New York and elsewhere. There was no large-scale enforcement action in New Mexico last week.

In a statement to the Journal, ICE said that it “regularly conducts targeted enforcement operations.” An ICE spokesman told the Associated Press that the latest “enforcement surge” was in the planning phase before the current administration issued the executive order. But immigrant advocates say the enforcement actions were harsher than in the past.

“The president’s No. 1 priority is to keep Americans safe, to have a secure border to keep out people who want to cause us harm,” Martinez said. “I don’t think anybody disagrees with a secure border. Now, what that looks like, I think that’s still in discussion.”

“Does part of it become a wall?” she asked. “Does part of it become more boots on the ground? Does part of it become – because of the terrain – technology that you use because you can’t have boots on the ground necessarily right there?”

Martinez, a former state prosecutor, said that convicted criminals who are in the country illegally should be deported.

But split a mother from her son, just because she is undocumented?

“I came out of a movie theater about two weeks ago,” Martinez said. “A little boy had been waiting for me on a bench. He was about 9 years old. And he comes up to me … and says, ‘Are you Gov. Martinez?’ I kneeled down with him. He says, ‘Can I ask you a question?’ I said of course. ‘I want to know if the president is going to send my mother back to Mexico.'”

Martinez said she asked him why he was worried.

“Because she came here when she was five and she doesn’t have a home in Mexico,” the boy told Martinez.

She said, “I said, ‘Look, why don’t you let us grownups worry about things like that? … She has been here a very, very long time and hopefully the grownups are going to come up with ideas that are going to make sure we’re never splitting up your mom from you.'”

Martinez said her message to the Trump administration would be to include governors, mayors, law enforcement, Border Patrol agents and people who live on the border, including border ranchers, in making border-related policies – “people who have actually been there for a period of time that have a whole lot of input, versus seeing this as a global picture (where) you don’t get the real flavor of what it’s like to live there.”

Martinez spoke to the Journal after an event at New Mexico State University that gave about 500 at-risk middle schoolers a taste of college life. The governor encouraged them to dream big and never let anyone tell them they can’t be what they want to be. At 17, Martinez told them, she dreamed of being president of the United States.

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