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Southwestern states, Homeland Security at odds over border controls

New Mexico declares state of emergency along border with Mexico, saying federal government hasn’t provided enough resources.

A crackdown on drug smugglers, criminals and undocumented immigrants in Arizona has caused a surge of violence in New Mexico, prompting state officials to declare an emergency and ask the federal government for immediate help, officials said Monday.

Gov. Bill Richardson, D-N.M., has issued a state of emergency for four counties that share a border with Mexico. Richardson said state and local law enforcement have done all they can to combat the situation, but the federal government has failed to do its part to stop drug smugglers, violence, undocumented immigrants and even disease from coming over the border.

"I'm taking these serious steps because of the urgency of the situation and, unfortunately, because of the total inaction and lack of resources from the federal government and Congress," Richardson said. "We will continue to work with the federal government in an attempt to get their assistance, but something had to be done immediately."

The Arizona Republic reported Saturday that Gov. Janet Napolitano, D-Ariz., might also declare a state of emergency this week because of border concerns.

Illegal activity and violence in New Mexico has surged since the Homeland Security Department began the Arizona Border Control Initiative last year, said Tim Manning, director of New Mexico's Office of Homeland Security.

ABCI, as it is commonly known, calls for an infusion of 534 more Border Patrol agents and a doubling of aviation assets this year in the Arizona Tucson Sector, which covers about 260 miles of mostly barren land that has the highest rate of illegal immigration in the country. The border in New Mexico is part of the Border Patrol's El Paso sector.

Border Patrol spokesman Salvador Zamora said DHS was aware that illegal activity would increase in the El Paso Sector due to the crackdown in Arizona. "That is something that is going to be seen when pressure is placed in areas where smugglers have been comfortably operating for awhile," he said.

Manning said the New Mexico government expected a surge in illegal activity, but did not receive any formal warning or notice from DHS regarding the situation or guidelines on how to respond.

"I haven't had any discussions with the management of the Department of Homeland Security. I haven't had any calls from Secretary [Michael] Chertoff's office," Manning said. "On-the-ground coordination has been happening and it's through that work that we realized more is needed."

The emergency declaration provides more than $1.7 million to the counties of Doña Ana, Luna, Grant and Hidalgo. The money will be used to establish a field office for the state Office of Homeland Security and to install a fence to protect a livestock yard, where a number of cattle have been killed or stolen.

Richardson also called on Mexico to bulldoze the abandoned town of Las Chepas, which is directly across the border from the town of Columbus, saying it is a notorious staging area for drug and illegal immigrant smugglers.

The declaration says the border situation "constitutes an emergency condition with potentially catastrophic consequences."

According to Zamora, the Border Patrol is increasing the number of agents in the El Paso sector. "Yuma, Tucson and El Paso, from a national perspective, are focused sectors in which technology, manpower and assets will be the priority," he said.

He added that the Border Patrol cannot do everything, and a combined, sustained effort with federal, state and local law enforcement is needed.

Calls to the El Paso Sector for comment were not returned Monday.

Manning said New Mexico and other border states need significant help from the federal government, including more Border Patrol agents and a comprehensive border control strategy that would involve state and local participation. He also advocated recommendations made by the 9/11 commission, which called for 10,000 extra Border Patrol agents to be hired over five years.

"The additional attention being paid in Arizona is a nice step, but there needs to be a borderwide comprehensive strategy," Manning said.

Congress approved 500 more Border Patrol agents in an emergency supplemental spending bill for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan earlier this year. Congress is also poised to fund the hiring of another 1,000 agents through the DHS 2006 appropriations bill.

Citizens have also become increasingly frustrated with the situation at the border and are organizing their own border camps to observe and report illegal immigration. The Minuteman Civil Defense Corps of New Mexico intends to set up camps starting in October. The camps will be modeled after those set up in Arizona in April.