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New Mexico senators urge Customs to address security issues in ‘Bootheel’

By Steve Bittenbender

Editor, Government Security News

Saying they’re acting on behalf of their constituents, New Mexico’s U.S. senators have reached out to the commissioner for U.S. Customs and Border Protection saying their state’s unique geography at the border with Mexico requires additional resources to ensure the international border remains secure.

The state’s southwestern corner, better known as the Bootheel, is a highly remote area that is mountainous with few roads. As a result, Sens. Tom Udall and Martin Heinrich say Border Patrol officials need to monitor the area differently than they would in more populated areas, like El Paso.

“Our meetings with local residents and officials helped to identify several actions that you could take to help make the border more secure and help our constituents feel safer in their homes,” the senators stated in a letter to CBP Commissioner R. Gil Kerlikowske last month. “We respectfully ask that you consider each of these proposals and take appropriate action to implement them as soon as possible.”

In 2015, CBP agents apprehended more than 11,000 people trying to cross illegally. In 2011, it was less than 7,000 apprehensions, the Albuquerque Journal reported,

Of particular concern is the Lordsburg CBP station, where because of the station’s location agent turnover is an issue. In addition, the station often is the site where newer agents with little training or experience are assigned. Udall and Heinrich asked Kerlikowske to implement incentives that would entice more veteran agents to consider taking assignments there and staying there for multiple years. Beyond incentive pay, the senators recommended that agents who commit to working Lordsburg and other remote stations receive priority for transferring to more popular stations.

Also, the senators encourage CBP to invest in night vision technology and at least 12 horses and all-terrain vehicles for the agents stationed in the Bootheel.

“This is extremely rugged and mountainous terrain and it is important to evaluate the horse to rider ratio needed in these areas to ensure our agents are provided with the resources they need to effectively patrol the border on horseback, while ensuring horses have ample time to rest, recover, and stay healthy,” the senators wrote. “Additional horses would allow agents to better patrol the area, be less visible to traffickers, and cause less wear and tear on roads used by ranchers in the area.”

According to the Journal, CBP’s El Paso office recently sent 11 horses to the Lordsburg station. That puts the number of horses stationed there to 30, but considering the nature of the terrain, all of the horses cannot be used on a daily basis.

The senators also said the New Mexico National Guard has assets border agents can leverage to fight drug traffickers.

“The New Mexico National Guard has four helicopters it would like to use at the border year-round, including two with infrared cameras,” they said. “Currently there is only National Guard Counter Drug funding available for about six months of operations.”

The full text of the senators’ letter can be found at: tomudall.senate.gov/?p=press_release&id=2311

 

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