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Governor's Words Rile Mexicans; Border Security Drives Debate

By Leslie Linthicum
Journal Staff Writer
    Gov. Bill Richardson's declaration of a state of emergency along New Mexico's southern border set off commotion in Mexico and drew international media attention.
    One of Richardson's policy advisers said Monday that Mexican authorities had been warned Richardson planned to take aim at drugs and violent crimes associated with illegal border crossings.

  • Beefed Up Border Pledged (Aug. 13)
  •     That didn't prevent an international squall played out in the Mexican press after Richardson dropped a sharply worded bomb on Friday.
        Richardson said in a statement Monday that states don't need to apologize for taking border security into their hands.
        "There needs to be a comprehensive strategy that involves local governments," he said. "Those of us here on the border know what needs to happen and we need to be involved."
        Richardson on Friday declared a state of emergency in the southern counties of Grant, Hidalgo, Luna and Doña Ana, saying the state's border "has been devastated by the ravages and terror of human smuggling, drug smuggling, kidnapping, murder, destruction of property and the death of livestock ... "
        Richardson said he would spend $1.75 million on security improvements and suggested bulldozing a Mexican border town popular with smugglers of humans and drugs.
        Richardson policy adviser Bill Hume said Juan Solano, Mexico consul general in Albuquerque, met with him Monday and told him the comments ruffled feathers.
        "He made us aware of some of the reactions in Mexico, their displeasure with it," Hume said.
        At Solano's suggestion, Hume said, officials from Chihuahua, New Mexico and the United States could meet soon in Deming to brainstorm on border security and come up with a coordinated approach to dealing with crime associated with illegal immigration on both sides of the border.
        Richardson discussed his border plans on "Lou Dobbs Tonight" on CNN on Friday and was scheduled to go on "The O'Reilly Factor" on Fox News on Monday night, his office said.
        The Mexican media jumped on Richardson's allegations and some Mexican government officials shot back, saying Richardson had exaggerated and generalized border problems.
        The Mexican Foreign Ministry said in a statement that Richardson's comments "do not correspond to the spirit of cooperation and understanding that are required for dealing with problems of common concern along the border."
        Chihuahua Gov. José Reyes Baeza urged "constructive dialogue" between governors on both sides of the border, and the mayor of Ciudad Juárez, Hector Murguia, invited Richardson to cross the border to see how nice border communities can be.
        Some Mexican media erroneously reported Richardson wanted to fence off the New Mexico border. A newspaper in the United States wrongly said Richardson was courting the help of Minutemen volunteers.
        "Totally wrong," Hume said.
        Richardson plans to spend about $50,000 to fence the stockyards at the Columbus Port of Entry, but has no other plans for fencing along the 180-mile New Mexico-Mexico border, Hume said.
        Richardson said Monday he is not in favor of closing the border.
        "We're looking to increase law enforcement to knock back the illegal activity associated with the immigration," Hume said.
        Hume said Richardson has no plans to meet with the Minutemen, the volunteer group that occupied Arizona's southern border this spring.
        Richardson hopes his commitment to border security might keep the Minutemen from carrying out a planned October blitz in New Mexico, Hume said.
        "We do not look with favor on volunteer civilian border guards," he said.
        Richardson spokesman Billy Sparks said e-mail response to Richardson's statements "has been overwhelmingly favorable." Of about 200 e-mails, he said, about 190 were supportive of better border protection.
        Sen. Jeff Bingaman, D-N.M., on a tour of the border Monday, said Richardson was right to declare a state of emergency and he hoped it will call attention to the needs of the region.
        The New Mexico Republican Party commended the Democratic governor in a news release Monday.