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Monument or Smugglers' Superhighway?

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The Las Cruces [New Mexico] Sun-News reports:

President Barack Obama signed a proclamation Wednesday formally designating nearly half a million acres of land in Doña Ana County as a national monument -- a move that comes after years of heated local debate over the proposal.
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"Anyone who's ever seen the Organ Mountains that overlook Las Cruces, New Mexico, will tell you that they are a spectacular sight," he said in a short speech before the signing. "You got massive rocks that jut up 9,000 feet in the air and stretch for 20 miles, like the organ pipes of a giant. And they're home to many of God's smaller creatures, as well. Deer and antelope roam -- falcons, mountain lions."
A personal aside here.  I lived in Las Cruces in my college years (cue the Beatles "There are places I'll remember...), and this description is correct.  But there is more to it  ...

While praised by environmentalists, the move is generating criticism from some lawmakers in the West and local law enforcement agents who see Obama's use of power as a threat to security in a region where the influence of Mexican drug cartels, human smuggling and illegal immigration are all apparent.

Doña Ana County Sheriff Todd Garrison recalls the times his deputies and federal agents were shot at as they pursued suspected drug smugglers through the area that will now be known as the Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks National Monument. He also talked about the dozens of stolen cars that have been used to ferry drugs along pathways that lead through the desert and past border patrol checkpoints.

"If we have no ability to patrol that area, crime is going to increase. It will be akin to the Organ Pipe National Monument in Arizona. I wonder how many years it will be before we have to post signs that say 'Enter at your own risk.' That's my concern," Garrison said.

A proclamation intended to protect the area may have unintended consequences that are just the opposite.

1 Comment

Mr. Scheidegger,

I grew up in El Paso. My son, father and I make our annual, spring, rockhounding expedition in some of the area which will become the monument. I know the lay of the land well, having hiked and driven a fair amount of it. My problem with the monument status is that it designates too much more land to the monument than is necessary to protect the "treasures" of the area. And there are some genuine treasures.

I think that the crime fears are a red herring promoted by those with other agendas. Most of the monument designated land is currently BLM land. As such, it is currently patrolled by BLM Rangers, whom I have never seen, and ICE, whom I see everywhere, all the time. Patrol and law enforcement in the monument will be transferred from BLM Rangers to the National Park Service. I am not sure whether Park Service Police or BLM Rangers are more effective as far as drug and human cargo interdiction are concerned. The Dona Ana County Sheriffs department rarely enters or patrol BLM land unless a crime has already been committed. BLM will still patrol the rest of the BLM land that is not part of the monument. ICE does pretty much anything they want in those parts, monument or not. That stretch of desert is fairly safe these days, mostly because of ICE and a trick of geography which I explain.

What goes on at Organ Pipe is the result of Mexico Highway 2 abutting the Mexican side of the border. Smugglers can drive along the Mexican side and cross into Arizona where they see fit. There is no analogous road on the Arizona side which ICE can move along and patrol. The situation is reversed in Dona Ana and Luna counties, because NM State 9 runs right on top of the Border and there is no analogous Highway on the Mexican side for smugglers to move quickly. This is why ICE is effective at securing the New Mexico boundary and the Arizona boundary is still the wild west.

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