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The Border Emergencies

In New Mexico ...

August 20, 2005|Bill Richardson | BILL RICHARDSON is the governor of New Mexico and a former U.N. ambassador and U.S. secretary of Energy.

Albuquerque — MASKED MEN KIDNAP three teenage girls. A sniper fires shots at the local sheriff. Property is destroyed at homes and businesses. Mexican cattle suspected of carrying bovine tuberculosis are found on ranches. Seven people reportedly are attacked and robbed at gunpoint. These are some of the many troubling developments in recent weeks along the U.S.-Mexico border in New Mexico.

Our border area also has seen heavy drug trade, human smuggling, kidnappings, murders, animal deaths and property destruction. The threat of potential terrorist activity remains.

All of this crystallized for me last week during a helicopter tour, when I saw firsthand the well-worn avenues along the desert floor where illegal entry and drug smuggling were taking place, with no law enforcement or Border Patrol visible on the ground. Conversations with ranchers and landowners reinforced what I witnessed. That was when I decided to declare a state of emergency along our border with Mexico.

Border security and immigration issues are clearly a federal responsibility. And those of us from border states have continuously urged the federal government to increase funding, expand patrols and dedicate more resources for border security. Yet our pleas have been met mostly by inaction.

The federal government could help by better coordinating with Mexico and urging its government to take simple steps, such as bulldozing Las Chepas, a small town on the border that, abandoned by its residents, has become a notorious staging area for smuggling drugs and immigrants. Border Patrol personnel are doing all they can, but they simply do not have the resources.

Legislation signed by President Bush last fall called for 2,000 more border agents, yet his own budget proposal this year funded only 210 additional agents.

Local input and expertise also are needed. State and local officials, who understand their areas' problems, must be involved in crafting an effective border security policy. We will continue pushing the federal government to find a long-term, comprehensive solution to illegal immigration and porous borders. But current circumstances in New Mexico demanded immediate action.

I understand that declaring a state of emergency is not a permanent solution. But it will help tackle urgent problems in the affected counties by freeing more state and federal money for law enforcement and fence repairs.

Governors are on the front lines of this battle. Until we get the help we need from the federal government, we will do whatever we can to protect our citizens, property and communities.

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