February 21, 2017

House panel passes bill to block use of state land for border wall

Gary Goodenough

Border fence between the United States and Mexico. Flickr/cc

A State House committee voted to pass a bill that would halt the state from aiding in the construction of a wall between the United States and Mexico by stopping the sale or use of state land for such a wall.

The bill passed the House State Government, Indian and Veterans Affairs Committee on a party-line vote, with all five Democrats voting in favor and all four Republicans voting against.

Rep. Javier Martinez, D-Albuquerque, was one of the bill’s sponsors and said the wall would not prevent undocumented immigration.

“If the purpose of this wall is to eliminate illegal immigration from Mexico, keep in mind that over 40 percent of those in this country illegally actually entered with a valid visa,” Martinez said. “So they arrived at an airport or arrived at a checkpoint with proper documentation and simply overstayed that documentation.”

Rep. Bill McCamley, D-Mesilla Park, said that the legislation would also send a signal to Mexico, a key trade partner.

“If we, in New Mexico, don’t try to oppose this policy, if we basically give into the federal government and say we’re OK with doing these certain things it’s a symbol,” McCamley said. “And it’s a symbol that people in Mexico will take that ‘we don’t want to work with you.’”

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McCamley said of New Mexico’s $3.8 billion in foreign exports, $1.7 billion of that goes to Mexico.

Republicans brought up other issues. Rep. Bill Rehm, R-Albuquerque, said the wall would help stop stolen vehicles from ending up in Mexico.

Rehm was also concerned that the federal government would invoke eminent domain to get the land needed to build the wall if the bill passed anyway.

“The federal government is going to just condemn it and take it,” he said.

Martinez noted that eminent domain is a process, and one that can take years.

A recent opinion piece in the Wall Street Journal highlighted how some land sought in the 2006 Secure Fence Act to build 700 miles of fence along the border is still unfenced.

“I see this kind of as a nice effort going through the Legislature, but unenforceable,” Rehm said of the bill.

Rep. Dennis Roch, R-Logan, argued a similar point, and said that the U.S. Constitution gives the authority over immigration enforcement to the federal government, not state governments.

Rep. Sharon Clahchischilliage, R-Kirtland, argued wider about the costs of immigration, from her experience working in El Paso, Texas.

“We were paying for the education of a lot of the illegal children in the United States. And legal. But the parents weren’t legal,” Clahchischilliage said. “We paid for a lot of the health expenses for a lot of the illegal immigrants and legal immigrants. In one family, you have illegal and legal.”

She said because this is an ongoing problem, the wall is an appropriate response.

The legislation now heads to the House floor.