Border Crisis in New Mexico

Farai Chideya talks with Carrie Kahn about the brewing immigration troubles on New Mexico's border. Gov. Bill Richardson recently declared a state of emergency in counties along the border, freeing up funds to help catch illegal immigrants crossing into the United States.

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ED GORDON, host:

From NPR News, this is NEWS & NOTES. I'm Ed Gordon.

The governors of Arizona and New Mexico have declared a state of emergency in several counties. They say their problems along the border with Mexico have reached the breaking point. Drug-smuggling, theft of livestock, kidnapping and murder, not to mention the ongoing flow of illegal immigrants. According to authorities, it's all part of the daily mix for many communities on the US side of the Mexican border. Farai Chideya spoke with NPR's Carrie Kahn, just back from New Mexico.

CARRIE KAHN reporting:

Well, I spent most of my time in the twin border cities of Columbus, New Mexico, and Palomas, Mexico. And with the Border Patrol crackdowns in California, Arizona and Texas, the illegal immigration traffic into the country is increasingly pushed into that area. Columbus, New Mexico, is really small, has about 2,000 residents. Its police chief is Clare May. Now counting the chief, there are two full-time officers. Chief May has been working so much overtime lately, he's--the mayor told him to cut down to three days a week. So they're very strapped there. He said he used to get 17 calls a month. Now he's up to more than 100 calls a month, and most of the time it's about stolen vehicles. He's hoping the governor's declaration will give him more resources, and here he is in his office.

Chief CLAIRE MAY (Columbus, New Mexico): I'm begging for four officers. I'll train them, I'll send them to school, but it's about public safety.

FARAI CHIDEYA: So you didn't just talk to the officers. You got to talk to all sorts of people in New Mexico. What were some of the other citizens saying?

KAHN: Mostly I talked to ranchers because that's where a lot of the complaints are coming. There are some enormous thousand-acre farms down there right at the border. And I spent a lot of time with Kirk Sachek(ph) and he gave me a tour of his 5,000-acre farm. He most farms chilies. He'd usually see a couple border-jumpers in a month or something. But now he's just seeing incredible amounts of people coming through. They leave trash in his fields, they break water lines to get water, and break into buildings. While we were touring, it was about 3 in the afternoon, full sun, about 96 degrees out there, and we came upon three crossers, and I'll play you a little bit of that.

Mr. KIRK SACHEK (Farmer): Yeah, there's three wets crossing right there. We call them wetbacks 'cause they say where--you know, when they cross the Rio Grande, they get wet so--well, let's see if we can get ahold of the Border Patrol in Columbus.

(Soundbite of beeping)

CHIDEYA: So did he get ahold of the Border Patrol?

KAHN: No, he let it ring, and he knew he wasn't going to because that's what they've been complaining about is that they call and call and the Border Patrol just doesn't answer. They're too busy. They're not there. And that's their office.

CHIDEYA: So what does the Border Patrol have to say about what their responsibilities are and whether or not they're meeting them?

KAHN: They, too, are overwhelmed. One night I went out with a Border Patrol agent and listening to their sensors, cameras, equipment and radio communiques, we estimated there were about 200 people crossing that night in their little 15-mile area that they were patrolling, and they wouldn't tell me how many officers they had out that night, but I'd say that, you know, what I could hear and count myself, I'd say that there was no more than seven. So they're just outnumbered.

CHIDEYA: NPR's Carrie Kahn, thanks so much.

KAHN: You're welcome.

GORDON: And she was speaking with NPR's Farai Chideya.

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