SUNLAND PARK, New Mexico (border report) – Security cameras and two large “Stay Out” signs guard the home of Sandra, a Sunland Park homeowner. But it is their beloved dogs who most often alert them to undocumented migrants roaming past their property.
“Every day I see them passing by or running,” said the woman, who lives less than 500 meters from the American-Mexican border wall. “I can say 20 of them come by here every day. It can be early in the morning, but even more so at night. Then my dogs bark and bark because someone is there. “
Like Sandra, who refused to give her last name for fear of reprisals by smugglers, residents of this small New Mexico town have been flooding their police lines in recent months as migrants from Mexico jump into their backyards, cross their porches, or knock at their doors to beg for water or food.
“Every day when I come to work I hear these calls. At 6 a.m. yesterday, 10 people were walking through the Alto Vista neighborhood. There are security concerns because all the officers on duty had to gather in this neighborhood and the rest of the city was left unattended, ”said Javier Guerra, Sunland Park police chief.
Then there are the other calls – the ones that force the city’s first responders to face a crisis. Five times in the past four weeks, Sunland Park police or firefighters have assisted U.S. Border Protection agents in locations where migrants have died of heat exhaustion or falls.
“The smugglers simply leave them in the desert or send them over (Mount) Cristo Rey. You are not familiar with the terrain; They are lost when the temperature goes into three digits or falls from a height. The other day we recovered (the body) of a woman who fell face down on a rock in Cristo Rey, ”said Guerra.
It does so because illegal immigration to the United States has stopped at levels it has not seen in 20 years, with federal authorities reporting 180,000 encounters with migrants in May and more than half a million in the past three months.
Sunland Park-Santa Teresa, a hotspot for illegal immigration
Border patrol officials say an area stretching from the mountain in Sunland Park – which is across the state line from El Paso, Texas – to the port of entry in Santa Teresa, New Mexico has become one of the nation’s hotspots for illegal immigration is. They attribute the increasing trade to the increasing involvement of the Mexican drug cartels in the smuggling of migrants.
“In contrast to fiscal years 2019 and 2020, when we saw family groups going to and surrendering to Border Patrol agents, we now see mostly single adults evading arrest and not applying for asylum,” said Valeria Morales. Border Police Special Operations Supervisor.
The cartels’ fingerprint can be seen on who comes by. The border patrol says citizens of Ecuador who paid smugglers between $ 8,000 and $ 15,000 to take them 3,000 miles from South America to the United States are now the largest group arrested here.
This lack of familiarity with the desert terrain and the three-digit temperatures are constant concerns. “Unfortunately we see this regularly and now every day in the summer months,” said Morales. “This industry has […] very extensive and remote areas. It takes hours to get to the nearest freeway. Migrants don’t know how long they will travel. “
One of the recent deaths in Sunland Park involved a migrant who succumbed to the heat near New Mexico Highway 273. If he had the strength to climb the sand hill in front of him, he would have seen the highway or a nearby neighborhood.
The border patrol is speaking to local stakeholders to install 16 emergency beacons in remote areas of the El Paso sector to provide assistance to migrants in need.
The beacons – a type of cell phone mast – are already being used in the Big Bend sector at Presidio and in the El Paso sector at Deming, NM. used
The mobile towers used in Big Bend are 20+ foot solar energy devices with simple drawings and instructions in English and Spanish. Migrants left behind by smugglers can see them from a great distance, approach them, press a button and get help from border police and first responders.
Morales said all five rescue lights in the El Paso sector are near Deming.
“We don’t have any in the Sunland Park-Cristo Rey area. However, since this is relevant to the El Paso sector, we are … in the development phase or we are building 16 beacons across the sector and there will be some here in this particular area, ”she said. “This will definitely help agents find many of the migrants stranded in the desert.”
U.S. Customs and Border Protection announced earlier this month that its officials carried out 7,084 rescue operations nationwide in May alone. The agency carried out 35 percent more rescue operations in the first eight months of the financial year than in the entire 2020 financial year.
Sunland Park residents have mixed feelings about illegal immigration
Sandra, the Sunland Park homeowner who lives near the border wall, says most of the migrants she has met are “probably good people.” However, she has had some uncomfortable experiences.
“They tried to get into our cars. We told them to go or we would call the police, ”she said. “You feel bad, you want to be (human), but there could be consequences if we help you.”
Other neighbors said they don’t like migrants knocking on their doors asking for food, water or money. “You never know whether they are 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 a pickup park in front of his house picking up two men and a woman from the border wall.
Police Chief Guerra said smugglers and warehouses go hand in hand with human trafficking.
“Smuggling is a federal issue, but we hear about it. Last month, three Las Cruces youths were arrested near Highway 9 for smuggling five people. The Juvies had guns with them, ”he said. “It’s alarming to see these organizations targeting young people because it’s cheaper for them.”
Experts have said that Border Report smugglers are paying teenagers, unemployed residents, and gang members between $ 100 and $ 150 to transport migrants from near the border wall to warehouses.
Guerra said he was preventing locals, especially young people, from allowing unauthorized migrants to be transported. “It will affect your chances of a good life because it will always be on your files,” said the police chief. “Besides, these organizations won’t let you go, they’ll want you to keep working for them. Before you know it, you are transporting narcotics instead of transporting people. “
He also encourages parents to keep an eye on their teenage children, especially in this volatile environment.
“Sometimes parents think that their children borrowed a car to go to the store. Then they get a call from Border Patrol that their son or daughter has just been arrested for alien smuggling, ”said Guerra. “They have to go through this and on top of that, their car is sometimes confiscated.”
Mayor Javier Perea agrees that the surge in migrants is draining the city’s resources and forcing residents to make difficult choices. He said the city has no plans to bill the federal government for assistance to federal agencies, even though it puts a strain on emergency services budgets.
He also differentiates between working with other officials and enforcing immigration laws. The city does not do the latter.
“There is communication with (Border Patrol) when it comes to the safety of our community. The relationship with the federal government is very important, ”said Perea. “We support each other to protect our law enforcement agencies (officials). The last thing we heard was that a border guard or a Sunland Park police officer died because there was not enough support or staff. ”
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