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https://www.lcsun-news.com/story/news/politics/2019/03/10/republicans-frustrated-border-security-deming-new-mexico/3119111002/ 

By Algernon D'Ammassa, Las Cruces Sun-News

Published 3:30 p.m. MT March 10, 2019

Tension over crime, suspicion of government prevail at 3-hour town hall

STORY HIGHLIGHTS
Meeting was organized by Luna County Republican Chairwoman
Speakers include GOP U.S. House candidate Yvette Herrell
Luna County commissioners back President Trump's emergency declaration

DEMING - In a departure from previous border security meetings that have convened periodically in Grant, Hidalgo and Luna counties, a meeting held in Deming Saturday featured no representatives from the U.S. Border Patrol or other law enforcement agencies. There were also no congressional staff representatives present.

Instead, the meeting at Deming's First United Methodist Church was a venue for residents to express frustration over human trafficking, increased apprehensions of migrants at the border, and immigration policy.

Hundreds packed the church's gymnasium. When asked to call out their places of residence, attendees named counties all over New Mexico, plus many from Arizona and El Paso.

Outside the church, a lone demonstrator wore a sign that read, "What would Jesus do with refugees?" Inside, however, the talk was of "illegals," with a consensus that border security and immigration are out of control.

There were standing ovations following calls to "build the damn wall" and loud jeering of New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham and the state's congressional delegation, who are all Democrats.

A staff representative for the state Republican Party drew applause after calling on the assembly to "vote red."

Speakers included 2018 Republican candidates Gavin Clarkson of Las Cruces, who ran for Secretary of State, and former state Rep. Yvette Herrell of Alamogordo, who has announced her second run for the U.S. House seat currently held by Rep. Xochitl Torres Small, D-N.M.

State of emergency on the border

At first the three-hour meeting focused on public health and security concerns along the border.

A recurring complaint was the governor's statement that she saw no "overwhelming national security crisis" at the border.

In contrast, Luna County Commissioner Barbara Reedy celebrated the three-member commission's passage Friday of a resolution supporting President Donald Trump's declaration of a national emergency to obtain funding for a border wall.

From the stage and the aisles, speakers expressed anger at the governor for withdrawing most of the National Guard personnel her predecessor deployed to the New Mexico border last year at the president's request.

Teresa Johnson, part of a cattle ranching family on the border in Luna County, reported dangerous encounters with drug traffickers, cattle lost to infectious diseases she attributed to "illegals" trespassing on her ranch, and frequent destruction of property including the scorching of hundreds of acres from signal fires.

As Johnson spoke of the family's efforts to protect their land, someone at the back of the room shouted, "From what I’ve heard, it sounds like the most effective method is bullets."

Speakers included GOP candidates

Grievances soon migrated from border security to immigration laws, which several speakers said are exploited by narcotics traffickers and human smugglers. A few speakers suggested the federal government was more concerned for the rights of immigrants than for citizens who feel threatened.

"People are no longer the priority in this state, in this nation," Herrell said in her speech. "This is about our sovereignty. This is about our constitution. This is about the future of our country and the future of generations to come."

Stressing the necessity of guns for personal protection, speakers denounced proposed gun reforms in New Mexico's current legislative session, including the mandatory background check bill signed by the governor on Friday.

More: New Mexico governor enacts expanded gun background checks

Clarkson showed aerial footage to highlight areas of the border without physical barriers, while arguing that asylum laws are routinely abused by fraudulent claims.

He also criticized the Deming Public Schools for permitting children living in Palomas, Mexico who are U.S. citizens to attend schools in Columbus and Deming. He referred to the students as "anchor babies" and called the arrangement a waste of tax dollars.

Suggestions for next steps ranged from lobbying representatives, to running for office, to tax resistance.

Mick Rich of Albuquerque, who ran for U.S. Senator Martin Heinrich's seat in 2018, called on citizens to "pick a race" and run for office or work on campaigns.

The event's organizer, Russ Howell, is the Luna County Republican Party chair. She told the Sun-News that the four Democratic officials represented by empty chairs had been invited, but had either declined or not responded.

Howell said Rep. Torres Small sent a letter to be read at the meeting, but it was not presented.

Algernon D'Ammassa can be reached at 575-541-5451, adammassa@lcsun-news.com

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