Illegal immigration is pressing issue

By Ryn Gargulinski: QCS

It’s not hard to spot illegal immigrants in Quay County, said T.J. Rich, assistant administrator of the Quay County Detention Center. He said they usually have a vehicle with beefed up suspension that is packed full of people.

Pointing to a small car, Rich said, “Twenty-five of them could fit in that.

“Most of them are just passing through,” Rich said, “and get caught off the Interstate or Highway 54.”

One of the most recent busts happened two months ago and included seven illegal Mexican immigrants packed inside a van officers stopped on Interstate 40, according to police reports.

In fall or spring harvest seasons, when immigrants are most frequently flocking to farmland looking for work, Rich said the detention center could process about 100 a month.

“We hold them here (in the detention center) until border patrol comes and gets them,” he said. From there Rich said they get taken to a federal facility in Albuquerque or Las Cruces, depending on the number of people involved, and eventually sent back from whence they came.

All this is costing the county money, Rich said. In turn, the state and the nation pay, too.

The number of illegal immigrants crossing the border
surpasses the legal ones by more than 100,000, according
to a report compiled by the Pew Hispanic Center, a nonpartisan research organization funded by Pew Charitable Trusts.

Since 2001, the report said the number of legal immigrants
who take up permanent residency in the U.S. dropped to 455,000, down from 578,000, while the number of illegal immigrants who scurry past the border rose from 549,000 to 562,000.

With drug trafficking, terrorism and illegal immigration on
their minds, New Mexico’s Gov. Bill Richardson (D) and Arizona’s Gov. Janet Napolitano (D) last month declared the border situation in a state of emergency.

“The fact that two governors out of the four on the border have issued emergency declarations should be a wake-up call for the Congress to pursue serious immigration reform,” said Richardson, who may be running for president himself in 2008.

U.S. Sen. Pete Dominici, R-N.M., has also been paying attention to the immigration situation, pushing for bills that help ameliorate the problem.

A bill he endorsed last month, the FY2006 Commerce, Justice and Science Appropriations Bill, included increased funding for the State Criminal Alien Assistance Program. According to a release from Dominici, this program helps to reimburse local governments for the cost of processing and housing illegal immigrants.

“Immigration policy and control of our borders is an exclusively federal responsibility,” Dominici said. “Yet our state prisons and county jails are incurring the heavy cost of incarcerating undocumented criminal immigrants.”

Another bill Dominici recently voted for was the FY2006 Homeland Security Appropriations Bill. With the Senate’s approval on Oct. 7, the bill heads to President Bush for his signature and includes security issues across the nation, some of great interest to New Mexico, Dominici said.

New Mexico issues include an additional $79.5 million to annualize 500 border patrol agents; a whopping $270 million for construction, renovation and maintenance of border facilities and $10.2 million to continue development and operation of unmanned aerial vehicles that support the Homeland Security Department through the Bureau of Customs and Border Protection.

On a national level, this increased funding would pay for 40,700 positions dedicated to protecting borders and enforcing immigration laws; 12,500 border patrol agents; 18,200 customs and border protection officers; over 6,000 criminal investigators for customs and immigration; 1,300 deportation officers and nearly 2,700 immigration enforcement agents and detention officers, according to Dominici’s office.