Udall, Heinrich Call for Swift Action on Border Security Concerns in NM's Bootheel

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, U.S. Senators Tom Udall and Martin Heinrich urged U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) to promptly address border security and safety issues in the Bootheel region of Southern New Mexico. In a letter to CBP Commissioner R. Gil Kerlikowske, Udall and Heinrich called for the agency to provide resources and equipment to help local Border Patrol agents more effectively patrol the region's vast rugged terrain. 

The senators are responding to residents who have raised concerns about border security, particularly in recent months, as well as concerns from Border Patrol agents and CBP leadership. 

"Our meetings with local residents and officials helped to identify several actions that you could take to help make the border more secure and help our constituents feel safer in their homes," the lawmakers wrote. "We respectfully ask that you consider each of these proposals and take appropriate action to implement them as soon as possible." 

Agents need additional horses, all-terrain vehicles and related equipment, such as night vision technology, the senators wrote. Additionally, the Border Patrol station in the remote region struggles with high agent turnover. The senators asked CBP to provide incentives to increase agent retention. 

Specifically, Udall and Heinrich urged CBP to take the following actions, which reflect input from CPB, local law enforcement, local and state leaders and area residents: 

- Address turnover by providing financial incentives, such as bonuses for multi-year commitments and cost of living adjustments, and non-financial incentives, such as priority consideration for vacancies in high-interest locations; 

- Provide at least a dozen additional horses and related equipment, and assess the need for additional all-terrain vehicles to increase agents' ability to access and effectively patrol the Bootheel's rugged and mountainous terrain; and

- Work with the National Guard to ensure counter-narcotic assets act as force multipliers and help the Border Patrol to cover more territory via increased use of available helicopters.

The full text of the letter is available below and here

The Honorable R. Gil Kerlikowske
Commissioner
U.S. Customs and Border Protection
Department of Homeland Security
1300 Pennsylvania Ave., NW
Washington, DC 20229

Dear Commissioner Kerlikowske:

Thank you for your continued leadership of U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP). We are writing to ask for your assistance in addressing several issues of importance in the border region of southern New Mexico.

As you may know, we hold regular meetings of the Border Security Task Force in southern New Mexico. The Task Force was started by Senator Bingaman in 2003 as a way to bring together CBP, local law enforcement, state and local leaders, and area residents. In addition to these regular meetings, many local residents recently held a meeting in Animas, New Mexico, to discuss their concerns about border security, particularly in the rugged Bootheel region of our state. We also have heard from local Border Patrol agents and leadership, who say they need more staff and resources to patrol this vast area effectively.

Our meetings with local residents and officials helped to identify several actions that you could take to help make the border more secure and help our constituents feel safer in their homes. We respectfully ask that you consider each of these proposals and take appropriate action to implement them as soon as possible.  

- Implement policies to encourage agent retention at the Lordsburg Border Patrol Station. Because the station is located in a remote area, agent turnover is very high, and the station frequently receives new agents who come in with little experience, and then leave once they gain experience and an understating of the community and terrain. We ask that you implement financial and nonfinancial incentives that would encourage agents to stay at the Lordsburg Station for a longer period of time. These could include bonuses for making a multiyear commitment to Lordsburg or a cost of living adjustment/incentive pay for border patrol agents and customs and border protection officers assigned to highly-trafficked rural areas. Nonfinancial benefits could include priority consideration for vacancies to agents who have served in hard to fill locations and are interested in transferring to high interest locations. 

- Provide at least a dozen additional horses and related equipment to increase the reach of agents and assess the need for additional all-terrain vehicles for agents to patrol the Bootheel. This is extremely rugged and mountainous terrain and it is important to evaluate the horse to rider ratio needed in these areas to ensure our agents are provided with the resources they need to effectively patrol the border on horseback, while ensuring horses have ample time to rest, recover, and stay healthy. Additional horses would allow agents to better patrol the area, be less visible to traffickers, and cause less wear and tear on roads used by ranchers in the area.  

- Work with the National Guard to ensure that its counternarcotic assets and expertise are more focused on the border to act as force multipliers to help Border Patrol cover more of this rugged, rural territory.  The New Mexico National Guard has four helicopters it would like to use at the border year-round, including two with infrared cameras.  Currently there is only National Guard Counter Drug funding available for about six months of operations. 

- Ensure agents patrolling the Bootheel region are provided adequate night vision technology.  

Thank you again for your commitment to our nation’s borders. We look forward to continuing to work with you and CBP to keep our nation safe and secure and to ensure our border communities in New Mexico prosper from their unique bi-national culture and economy.

Sincerely,

Tom Udall                                                                    
United States Senator
 
Martin Heinrich
United States Senator