By Janice Kephart, CIS.org
The border area between New Mexico and Mexico is sparsely populated and has limited natural or man made barriers to illegal crossing. This, coupled with an extensive road network that traverses the state in all directions, makes New Mexico a haven for the transshipment of illegal drugs from Mexico to destination points throughout the United States.
Current enhanced enforcement operations by the Department of Homeland Security in Arizona will most likely force drug traffickers and alien smugglers to shift their smuggling efforts from Arizona to New Mexico. This, in turn, will have a serious impact on enforcement operations and judicial proceedings in New Mexico. While additional enhancements for Border Patrol agents in southern New Mexico has somewhat mitigated the increased use of southern New Mexico as a viable route for alien smuggling, there has been a marked increase in the number of drug seizures and apprehensions of illegal aliens.
- DEA New Mexico Report (2008)
Obviously, the impact of the [Wilderness] policy is severe on our operations. When you can’t drive in those areas, it makes it impossible to patrol and enforce the law, and it transforms it into a sanctuary for illegal aliens.”
- T.J. Bonner, President, National Border Patrol Council, the union representing more than 12,000 Border Patrol agents (July 2010)
To date, discussion of the porous Southwest border has largely left out New Mexico. That is about to change if Senators Jeff Bingaman (D-N.M.), Chairman of the Senate Committee on Energy & Natural Resources, and Tom Udall (D-N.M.) are able to pass an otherwise innocuous bill that changes which laws apply to a stretch of federal land on the New Mexico border. The bottom line is, if S. 1689, the “Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks Wilderness Act,” becomes law, New Mexico will likely become the next staging ground for drug cartel and illegal alien smuggling activity, tracking what happened in Arizona. Why? The bill would change the designation of Department of Interior lands, managed by the Bureau of Land Management, from “public lands” to “wilderness,” severely curtailing the Border Patrol’s ability to conduct preventative, ongoing, and necessary operations due to the stringent nature of wilderness laws that are now four decades old. New Mexico would suffer the same results as those documented by the Center in the “Hidden Cameras on the Arizona Border” three-part series showing the waste, destruction, and unsafe circumstances that borderlands suffer when wilderness laws (and poor federal government policy) create a vacuum of law enforcement presence.