New Mexico ranchers frustrated with situation along U.S.-Mexico border | KOB 4
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New Mexico ranchers frustrated with situation along U.S.-Mexico border

Chris Ramirez
January 27, 2019 12:39 PM

HIDALGO COUNTY, N.M.- There are so many voices, all of them important, in the national debate about border funding. 

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Tribal politics has pitted the country into “us versus them.”  This very debate has also paralyzed the federal government in the longest shutdown in our country’s history.  But ranchers who live and work in New Mexico’s Boot Heel feel like their voices haven’t been heard on this issue, even though border issues affect their daily lives.

New Mexico’s Boot Heel sits in Hidalgo County, wedged between Arizona and Mexico. The county shares 87 miles of its boundary with Mexico and there is no border wall in Hidalgo County.

“We have to get the word out that we have a crisis down here,” Tricia Elrock told the KOB 4 Investigates team during a recent visit to Hidalgo County.  In fact, our visit prompted an impromptu town hall by ranchers who wanted to tell us what they were seeing on a daily basis.  

“It's not getting any better, it's getting worse and there is now an influx of people," said Billy Darnell.  “We know something is going to happen every day we go out.”

KOB 4 asked if any of them had been victimized by people who they believe to be undocumented immigrants.  All but one raised their hands to state yes. 

“We've had vehicles stolen,” said Randy Massey.

“They've had bundles of weed, coke and carrying heavy artillery,” said Cammi Moore.

“The worst part of it, we had an employee kidnapped. And that was probably the worst night of my entire life until we got him back,’ said Elrock.   

“It's getting to the point where these confrontations are getting more aggressive and more and more violent,” said Kris Massey. 

Part of the problem, as the ranchers see it, is the lack of barriers between the U.S. and Mexico. In parts of Hidalgo County, the countries are separated, in some places, by Normandy barriers. 

Normandy barriers are a series of 3 -5 feet high steel cross jacks that would deter a motorist, but humans could easily go under or over them. The boundary with Hidalgo County and Mexico is separated by a 5-foot high barbed wire fence.  In some areas, there are gates that easily open. 

Ranchers told KOB 4 that drug smugglers often open those gates and drive drugs into the U.S.

In the last few weeks, the U.S. Customs and Border Protection has sent news releases out that illustrate the ranchers' concerns.  On January 16th, U.S. CBP reported that a group of 247 migrants turned themselves in near the Antelope Wells Port of Entry in Hidalgo County.  Two days later, U.S. CBP released night video showing a group of migrants jumping over the Normandy barriers. Many, if not all, of the migrants are asylum seekers. 

The ranchers believe the real problem is the drug smugglers.

Lack of help

When a crime occurs on ranch land, they call the Hidalgo County Sheriff’s Office for help, but the sheriff admits help is not always available.

“The citizens aren't protected," said Hidalgo County Sheriff Warren Walter.  “We need to have more manpower.”

The Sheriff’s Office only has four working deputies to cover 3,500 square miles.  

“With my four officers – days off, vacation time, sick leave-- we can't cover 24 hours a day,” said Sheriff Walter.  “We are basically 6 a.m. to 10 p.m. at night.  That's the best I can do.  In my honest opinion, that's not fair to the citizens of the county.” 

And when a deputy is at the border responding to a crime, that leaves the rest of the county unmanned.  The situation is so desperate, the Hidalgo County Manager wrote a letter to the governor and Senators Martin Heinrich and Tom Udall, begging for more assistance. 

Hidalgo County Manager Tisha Green wrote in part, “we feel there is an imminent threat to the safety and welfare of our citizens in Hidalgo County.  Resources such as medical, law enforcement and sanitation are amongst those most needed.”

“The calls I get from citizens, they state there are people in their backyards, they are seeing several on a daily basis, and people are breaking into their homes, stealing different items.  They feel like they are not safe, not protected” Green told KOB during an interview, in response to her letter.

Ranchers and Hidalgo County officials hope the state can help fund more deputies.  They also want Santa Fe politicians to see what they are seeing.  In early January, Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham visited the Santa Teresa Port of Entry in Dona Ana County and said she didn't see a crisis.

“While I've been to this area of the border many times, I haven't seen anything that indicates that we have an emergency crisis here at the border and that's important to talk to New Mexicans about and I also think it's important to talk to the nation about.”

The governor’s words deeply offended the ranchers.

“The asinine idea that these politicians spout out that ‘oh our border is secure, there is not a crisis here.’  For them, there is not.  They live in Washington or they live in Santa Fe and they only come here to secure ports.  It's a crock.  And it's absolutely insulting to the people who live down here," Kris Massey stated during an impromptu town hall. 

In response to the ranchers' thoughts, the governor’s spokesman sent a statement:

“There is not an emergency crisis at the border that warrants the asinine and anti-American anti-immigration tactics endorsed by the president and his minions; that’s the proper context for the governor’s remarks, and the full story of what she was expressing. No doubt, as she mentioned many, many times at the border, and as I’m sure you mentioned to these ranchers, one of her key priorities is doing the work to ensure the public safety of New Mexicans, making data-driven decisions instead of political decisions, and the chance to begin to identify what is working and what is not working was one of the key rationales for her visit to the border. That was made abundantly clear in her remarks at the border. What will not work is a wall; what isn’t working currently is treating asylees like criminals. That is what she meant by that comment, and one would hope these folks can see the context in which it was presented, and the governor recognizes their concerns.”   -- Tripp Stelnicki, spokesman for Gov. Lujan Grisham.

For those living in New Mexico’s Boot Heel, they don’t really care about the politics of the border.

“It's not about Democrats or Republicans here, it’s our lives here,” Elrock stated.

For them, they just want more help. They want more local law enforcement. And they would like the federal government to come up with a plan that stops the inflow of illegal drugs onto their lands.

Credits

Chris Ramirez

Copyright 2019 KOB-TV LLC, a Hubbard Broadcasting Company. All rights reserved

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