There aren’t a lot of people living in the southwestern corner of the state that borders Arizona and Mexico, known as New Mexico’s Bootheel. But that didn’t stop hundreds of area residents from finding their way to Animas earlier this month for a meeting about border security.
Area newspapers reported that more than 600 people turned out for the meeting. And they sent this “resounding message,” according to the Hidalgo County Herald: “The border is not safe, despite what you may have heard otherwise.”
“Concerns about border safety are nothing new to Hidalgo County residents, but the stakes have been raised in recent years as the influx of illegal immigrants have morphed from families looking for a better life to drug smugglers and human traffickers, often armed and dangerous,” the Herald stated as declaratory background in its report on the Animas meeting.
The crowd was particularly riled over an incident this past December, when a man working on a ranch in the Bootheel was reportedly kidnapped by drug runners, who then used his vehicle to carry narcotics into Arizona. The man was left injured but alive.
Plus, there’s the 2010 murder of rancher Robert Krentz, who was found shot to death on his southern Arizona property. Although the homicide remains unsolved, a lot of people are convinced he was killed by an illegal border crosser.
The Animas meeting began with a video about the Krentz case, and his widow and son spoke. “I come here with one message,” the Herald quoted Sue Krentz saying at the meeting, “Secure the border!”
The meeting may have been effective in a couple of ways. One is that it called attention, at least regionally, to the issue of border security—and it certainly got the attention of the politicians.
Staffers from the offices of U.S. Sens. Tom Udall, Martin Heinrich and John McCain were all there, while U.S. Rep. Steve Pearce, whose congressional district includes all of southern New Mexico, was there in person.
Aside from the political lip service given to the issue during and after the meeting, the most pragmatic response may have come from Brig. Gen. Andrew Salas, who attended the meeting on behalf of the National Guard. His words were reported in the Albuquerque Journal: “My takeaway is that the people along the border recognize a grave threat to themselves and their communities, and the National Guard is ready to respond to help secure the border.”
That could particularly help in the Bootheel area. Border Patrol’s base in Lordsburg, which serves that area, has been seriously understaffed for several months now, and the Guard could help with that.
Other ideas to surface at the meeting included more agents on horseback patrolling the rough and secluded areas along the border and more helicopters in the air watching for illegal crossings. Locals pointed out that if there were more people and resources right up against the border, illegal border jumpers would be caught faster.
No mention, at least in the printed reports I read, of Donald Trump’s proposed wall, but I’ll bet he had supporters in this crowd. But that’s not necessarily true across the breadth of southern New Mexico.
The fact is, our entire state benefits greatly, both culturally and economically, from its relationship with Mexico, and that’s especially true for southern New Mexico. The state has three legal border crossings with Mexico—at Antelope Wells (in the Bootheel), near Columbus and at Santa Teresa—and at each of them, the traffic almost always flows back and forth without incident.
The nation benefits as well from its relationship with Mexico. With about 350 million legal crossings a year, the U.S.-Mexico border is known as the busiest international boundary on earth. And since the entire border is nearly 2,000 miles long, New Mexico’s couple hundred miles of borderland is only a small part of a much bigger picture.
The commerce and industry that goes back and forth legally between Mexico and Nuevo Mexico, in the form or goods and services and workers and families, is steady, beneficial and profitable for both sides. But when borderland lawbreakers threaten the safety of those who live and work on the U.S. side of that border, expect a serious backlash.
No New Mexican, or any other U.S. citizen for that matter, should feel unsafe on our side of the line. But to ensure such security requires a significant official commitment of manpower and money in places like the Bootheel of southwestern New Mexico. We’ll have to wait and see if the Animas meeting spurred an even greater commitment forward.
Tom McDonald is founder and editor of the New Mexico Community News Exchange and editor of the Roswell Daily Record. He may be reached at email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org.