By Rob Nikolewski │ New Mexico Watchdog
SANTA FE, N.M. — Sheriffs along the U.S. border with Mexico don’t like what they’re seeing.
Describing the immigration crisis as “spiraling out of control,” a coalition of five sheriffs’ organizations in the Southwest released a three-page statement calling on the federal government to resist “outright amnesty” for people in the country illegally.
The document obtained by New Mexico Watchdog called for increased funding for border security programs, including removal programs supervised by Immigration and Customs Enforcement and DNA samples, fingerprinting and iris scans for people apprehended for entering the U.S. without documentation.
“The immigration crisis has overwhelmed the capabilities of U.S. Customs and Border Protection and all the federal agencies attempting to assist in the efforts to secure our borders,” said the statement, approved by the boards of the Western States Sheriffs’ Association, the Texas Border Sheriff’s Coalition, the Southwestern Border Sheriffs’ Coalition, the New Mexico Sheriffs’ Association and the National Sheriffs’ Association.
The groups are meeting in Santa Fe through Wednesday.
“We’re not just saying we have problems,” said Donald Reay, executive director of the Texas Border Sheriff’s Coalition, based in El Paso. “We’re saying we have solutions to those problems.”
The sheriffs’ statement went on to say the coalition is willing to form a “united security zone in sufficient depth along the border” to ensure safety.
That prompted criticism from the American Civil Liberties Union.
“Sheriff’s deputies may need more resources to do their jobs, but enforcing federal immigrations laws is not one of them,” said Vicki Gaubeca, director of the Regional Center for Border Rights of the ACLU of New Mexico.
Two months ago the border issue made national headlines after tens of thousands of unaccompanied children— largely from Central America — entered the U.S. Yet, Senate Majority leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., told reporters, “the border is secure.”
Sen. Martin Heinrich, D-N.M., took to the Senate floor one day later.
“The border today is more secure than it has ever been,” Heinrich said, adding, “There are more border patrol agents on the ground and more resources and technology deployed on the border than in any time in our nation’s history. These resources have been effective.”
“We’ve never been in more disagreement with them,” Reay said. “It’s an open border. It’s not supposed to be, but it is. And when people cross the border other than (through) a port of entry, they have committed a violation of federal law.”
The sheriff’s coalition statement says, “Amnesty is not the answer.”
But it’s been estimated at least 11 million people without documentation are living in the U.S.
“We’re not talking about a roundup,” Reay said. “Our sheriffs realize that would be virtually impossible to do because it would have a huge economic impact on the communities they represent.”
Instead, Reay said, the sheriffs favor having undocumented workers come forward and take part in a pathway to legalization.
“We believe the rule of law has a process in effect that should be followed,” Reay told New Mexico Watchdog. “Citizenship should not be automatic. Citizenship should be earned.”
The statement makes nine recommendations calling for collaboration between federal, local and tribal law enforcement, including $1.1 billion for a justice assistance grant, $280 million in funding for high-intensity drug trafficking areas, $100 million for a readiness program along the border called Operation Stonegarden and unspecified funding for ICE’s criminal removal program.
“The government has already spent a great deal of money on border enforcement resources, last year alone spending close to $11 billion,” Gaubeca said in an email to New Mexico Watchdog. “CBP (U.S. Customs and Border Protection) is already the largest law enforcement agency in the nation. It doesn’t need more help. In addition, DHS (the Department of Homeland Security) and CBP are already taking additional steps to build new detention facilities, including wrongly building more facilities for family detention when effective and cheaper alternatives exist.”
The sheriffs offered five solutions to the border crisis, including required fingerprints, DNA swabs and iris scans for everyone apprehended while trying to enter the U.S. illegally.
Wouldn’t that be expensive to administer?
“When you weigh the expense versus the benefit, absolutely not,” said Reay, who didn’t offer an estimate of the cost. “Because you are saving lives, you are identifying people later who are possibly criminals.”
Reay said the statement will go to Capitol Hill.
“This will be put out to every member of Congress,” Reay said. “We’re hoping to get some of their attention so they can take action on it.”
Click here to read the sheriffs’ coalition document.
Here’s the New Mexico Watchdog interview with Reay: