SUNLAND PARK, New Mexico (Border Report) – Surveillance cameras and two large “caution” signs guard the home of Sunland Park owner Sandra. But dear dogs most often warn him of undocumented immigrants shaking him past his property.
“Every day I see them passing by or running,” said a woman who lives less than 1,500 feet from the U.S.-Mexico border. “I can say that 20 of them walk here every day. It may be early in the morning, but more at night. That’s when my dogs bark and bark because someone is there.”
Like Sandra, who refused to give her last name for fear of retaliation by smugglers, residents of this small New Mexico city have flooded their police department phone lines in recent months as immigrants from Mexico jump into their backyards, collide on their porches or knock on their doors to ask for water.
“I come to work every day and hear those calls. Yesterday at 6 a.m. there were 10 people running in the Alto Vista neighborhood. Security is a concern because all the officers on duty had to gather in that neighborhood and the rest of the city was unsupervised, ”said Javier Guerra, police chief of Sunland Park.
Then there are the other calls – the ones that force the city’s first respondents to face a crisis. Five times in the last four weeks, Sunland Park police or firefighters have helped U.S. Border Patrol representatives in places where immigrants died of heat exhaustion or collapse.
“The smugglers just abandon them in the desert or send them over Cristo Rey (mountain). They do not know the terrain; they get lost when the temperature reaches three digits or falls from a height. One day we picked up a woman who fell face down on a rock in Cristo Rey, ”Guerra said.
This happens when illegal immigration to the United States continues at a level not seen in 20 years. Federal authorities reported 180,000 immigrants in May and more than half a million in the last three months.
Sunland Park-Santa Teresa, a hotspot for illegal immigration
According to Border Patrol officials, the area that stretches from Sunland Park Mountain – located across the state line from El Paso, Texas – to Santa Teresa in New Mexico, has become one of the country’s hotspots for illegal immigration. They blame the increased traffic on Mexican drug cartels, which are increasingly involved in the smuggling of immigrants.
“Unlike fiscal years 2019 and 2020, when we saw family groups arrive and surrender to Border Guard representatives, we now see mostly single parents circulating from arrest and not seeking asylum,” said Valeria Morales, a special border guard operator.
The fingerprint of cartels is visible in who is coming. According to the Border Patrol, Ecuadorian citizens who have paid the smugglers $ 8,000-15,000 to get them 3,000 miles from South America to the United States are now the largest group arrested here.
This unknownness of the desert terrain and the three-digit temperatures are a constant cause for concern. “Unfortunately, this is something we see regularly and now every day coming into the summer months,” Morales said. “This is […] in very large and remote areas. It takes hours to reach the nearest highway. Immigrants do not know how long they will travel. “
One of the recent deaths in Sunland Park was caused by an immigrant who withdrew from the heat just off New Mexico Highway 273. If he had the strength to get over the sand hill in front of him, he would have seen the highway or the surrounding area.
I hope the lighthouses
The Border Guard is discussing with local stakeholders the installation of 16 emergency beacons in remote areas of El Paso to provide assistance to migrants in need.
Lighthouses – a kind of cell phone tower – are already in use in the Big Bend sector near the Presidio and in the El Paso sector near Deming, NM
The portable towers used in Big Bend are 20-foot-plus photovoltaic devices with simple drawings and instructions in English and Spanish. Immigrants left by smugglers can see them from afar, approach them, press a button and get help from the border guard and first aid.
According to Morales, all five rescue lighthouses in the El Paso area are close to Deming.
“We don’t have any in the Sunland Park-Cristo Rey area. However, because this has implications for the El Paso sector, we are … in development or capable of 16 lighthouses across the sector, and here are some in this particular area, “he said.” This will definitely help agents find a lot of migrants stuck in the desert. “
U.S. Customs and Border Protection said earlier this month that its officers rescued 7,084 rescues nationwide in May alone. The Agency has already implemented 35% more rescues in the first eight months of the financial year than in 2020 as a whole.
Sunland Park residents have conflicting feelings about illegal immigration
Sandra, home owner of Sunland Park, who lives near the border wall, says most of the immigrants who come across are “probably good people.” However, he has had awkward experiences.
“They’ve been trying to get in our cars. We told them to leave or else we call the police,” he said. “You feel bad, you’d like to be (human), but it can have consequences if we help them.”
Other neighbors said they don’t like immigrants knocking on their doors asking for food, water or money. “You never know if they’re good or bad people,” said another neighbor, who refused to give his name.
The man said he once called the police when he saw a man in the park in front of his house picking up two men and a woman from the border wall.
Police Chief Guerra said smugglers and storage facilities go hand in hand with the smuggling of immigrants.
“Smuggling is a federal matter, but we hear about it. Last month, three Las Cruces minors were arrested near Highway 9 for smuggling five people. Trains had guns, he said.” It’s alarming to see that because these organizations target young people because it’s cheaper for them. . “
Experts have reported from the border report that smugglers pay teenagers, unemployed residents and low-level gangs $ 100-150 to transport immigrants from the border wall to hidden houses.
Guerra said he is preventing locals, especially young people, from agreeing to transport unauthorized immigrants. “It will hurt your chances of a good life because it will always be on your record,” the police chief said. “These organizations don’t let you go either, they want you to keep working for them. Before you know it, you’re transporting drugs instead of transporting people.”
She also encourages parents to keep tabs on their teenage children, especially in this unstable environment.
“Sometimes parents think their children borrowed a car to go to the store. Then they get a call from the border guard that their son or daughter was just arrested for smuggling foreigners, ”Guerra said. “They have to go through it and sometimes their car is arrested.”
Mayor Javier Perea agrees that a wave of immigrants is straining the city’s resources and forcing residents to make difficult choices. He said the city does not plan to bill the federal government for assisting federal agencies, even if this would tax emergency services budgets.
He also distinguishes between co-operation with other officials and between the implementation of immigration laws. The city, he said, is not doing the latter.
“The connection with (the Border Guard) is about the security of our community. The relationship with the federal government is very important, ”Perea said. “We support each other to protect law enforcement (officials). The last thing we heard was a border guard agent dead or Sunland Park police going away because there wasn’t enough support or staff.”
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