The border with Mexico at the center of the concerns of the candidates for the post of governor of the GOP

Sunland Park, New Mexico is home to immigrants crossing into New Mexico. Pictured, Border Patrol agents apprehend an immigrant who was hiding in an abandoned house in a residential area of ​​Sunland Park. (Roberto E. Rosales/Albuquerque Journal)

Copyright © 2022 Albuquerque Journal

SANTA FE — All five Republican candidates for governor of New Mexico have pledged to strengthen border security.

But each also argues that they are uniquely positioned to tackle the issue as GOP voters prepare to choose a candidate.

The candidates’ ideas range from the deployment of the New Mexico National Guard — broadly backed by the GOP field — to a mix of individual ideas that include investments in roads and broadband, an autonomous border agency and a force. strike of 150 people at the Ministry of Public Security.

The debate comes as law enforcement encounters with migrants trying to cross the border from Mexico into the United States jumped 33% in March from the previous month, according to federal data for all of Mexico. the southwestern border. A surge in migration is also expected in late May, as a federal order restricting asylum, which Republicans seized on in a key election year, expires.

For New Mexico, the border is also an economic force. State exports hit a record high of $5.4 billion last year, largely due to activity around the Santa Teresa port of entry.

Much of the Republican campaign has focused on connecting border security to New Mexico’s broader debate on crime and public safety.

State Representative Rebecca Dow of Truth or Consequences said the U.S. Border Patrol has an infrastructure wish list that New Mexico could support by tapping into its budget surplus. The state, she said, could help pay for the fiber optic cables needed for electronic surveillance and contribute to the cost of roads and access points used by Border Patrol.

Criminals “bring drugs across our border or engage in human trafficking, and that has to stop,” Dow said in an interview. “Border security is national security.”

Mark Ronchetti, a former meteorologist with CBS affiliate KRQE, said he spoke with Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey and other public safety officials about what worked — and what didn’t. didn’t work – in their states.

It offers a 150-person strike force of New Mexico law enforcement officers focused on combating drugs and human trafficking. He is considering an increase in road checks and vehicle inspections, in addition to the deployment of drones and K-9 units.

“We’re going to create the best-trained force possible,” Ronchetti said.

Both Dow and Ronchetti have run border-focused TV ads, but they’re not the only contestants talking about the issue.

Jay Block, Sandoval County Commissioner and retired Air Force Lt. Col., proposed a new Border Security Agency, and Greg Zanetti, a West Point graduate and financial adviser, touted his services. as a Brigadier General in the Army National Guard.

Republican candidates are also critical of Democratic Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham, who is seeking re-election this year.

Lujan Grisham, a former congresswoman, withdrew most of the state’s National Guard troops from the border in 2019 after taking office. She said then that she did not object to investments in border security, but that it was inappropriate for the state to “militarize our border”.

In a written statement Friday, a campaign spokeswoman said Lujan Grisham has approved more than $31 million to improve public safety in border counties, including upgrades to surveillance and communications systems that will facilitate collaboration between local and federal law enforcement.

The governor “has worked with communities in southern New Mexico to ensure they are safe and thriving places to live,” spokeswoman Kendall Witmer said.

Republican gubernatorial candidates, left to right, Rebecca Dow, Ethel Maharg, Jay Block, Greg Zanetti and Mark Ronchetti earlier this month in Albuquerque. (Roberto E. Rosales/Albuquerque Journal)


Four of the five Republican candidates — all but Ethel Maharg, who was unavailable for an interview with the Journal — voiced support for deploying the National Guard to support federal immigration authorities. New Mexico has a 180 mile border with Mexico.

Federal law limits military involvement in law enforcement, but Republican candidates say the guard can be used to free up Border Patrol agents to focus on immigration.

In 2018, for example, National Guard troops sent to the border by the then government. Susana Martinez, a Republican, helped maintain vehicles, care for horses used by Border Patrol agents, and provide surveillance.

“I’m going to ask Border Patrol what skills … they want the guard to bring in,” Block said.

Zanetti, who served in the Guard, said the troops can serve as a “force multiplier” to help federal agencies, but careful coordination is required.

“There’s more complexity to this than you might think,” he said. Dow and Ronchetti say they, too, see a role for the National Guard on the border.


Opponents of a guard deployment say it would hurt the morale of guard members, who are not trained in immigration enforcement.

The American Civil Liberties Union of New Mexico described the idea as a “needless waste and misuse of resources” at a time when New Mexicans need investments in infrastructure, economic opportunity and services. social services.

“Many of the people who come to our southern border are there to seek legal asylum,” said Nayomi Valdez of the ACLU of New Mexico, “and respecting our American values ​​means greeting them with dignity, not with the gun barrel of ‘gun”.

The deployments, she said, also heighten tensions in peaceful communities.

Witmer, spokeswoman for Lujan Grisham’s campaign, said the governor took a holistic approach to the border by working with businesses to grow southern New Mexico’s economy and investing in health programs. behavior and substance abuse.

“Governor Lujan Grisham is focused on providing services to new Mexicans and their families, not co-opting bogus solutions from other states,” Witmer said.

Candidate Ideas

In a series of interviews with the Journal, the Republican candidates outlined their own strategies for bolstering border security and explained why they believe they are the best choice for solving the problem:

• Block said it would establish a new border security agency modeled on similar efforts in Arizona and Texas.

“This is a law enforcement organization that is going to be strictly border-focused,” he said.

More broadly, he said, he views the border through the lens of a “pro-life candidate,” given the number of people who die trying to enter the United States.

The arrival of fentanyl across the border, he says, is particularly personal.

“My mother had a very serious drug problem,” he said. “I don’t want other families to go through what I went through. I am very sensitive to how this affects families.

• Zanetti said he has a “grown-up” view of the frontier that goes beyond the 30-second soundbites offered by his rivals.

As a retired brigadier general, he said, he knows firsthand the practical questions that need to be answered before deploying troops to the border.

His military service, he said, took him to the borders of Europe, to Guantanamo Bay in Cuba and to the US border with Mexico.

“If you want a governor who understands how to secure the border without emptying the treasury,” Zanetti said, “you might want a governor who was a brigadier general in the New Mexico National Guard, who once worked in the border, our border – and a governor who understands money.

• Ronchetti said he has spoken with the governor of Arizona and other officials about practical steps a state can take to enhance border security.

His plans call for the creation of a strike force with 150 officers within the Department of Public Safety, similar to a new branch of the state police.

The group would focus on drug and human trafficking, he said, particularly on curbing the flow of fentanyl.

State drones and K-9s, he said, can help fill gaps in border security.

“Border security is personal security in your home from drug trafficking,” Ronchetti said.

Traffic stops, he said, would be coordinated to avoid disrupting legal trade with Mexico.

• Dow, a member of the State House since 2017, said she was the only candidate to represent a district near the border, giving her practical insight into the needs of local and federal law enforcement.

“I will follow the example of our Border Patrol agents and our county and local law enforcement agencies,” she said.

With a surplus and a record state budget, Dow said, New Mexico is well positioned to help pay for capital projects that would help Border Patrol focus on its core mission without interfering with legal commerce.

The state, she said, could help federal agents by helping to fund fiber optic lines that support electronic surveillance and building or improving roads needed by law enforcement in the area. border.

The primary election is June 7 and postal voting begins May 10.