Governor Richardson shares his views on the increasing flow of migrants across the New Mexico border and his reasons for recently declaring a state of emergency in counties along the border. We also hear his reasons for calling for stronger border security and the need to work with Mexico on creating jobs. [includes rush transcript]
Immigration has been the subject of heated debate recently with unauthorized patrol groups like the Minutemen sparking controversy about border security. There have also been reports about the increasing number of people dying while trying to cross the border. In an effort to combat this flow, Governor Richardson declared a state of emergency on August 12 in four counties of New Mexico. In response to this, the federal government sent an additional 300 Border Patrol Agents. Richardson then called for Mexican authorities to bulldoze a tiny village known as Las Chepas, saying it is one of the busiest gateways for illegal migration to the United States.
- Bill Richardson, Democratic Governor of New Mexico, former ambassador to the United Nations and former Secretary of Energy.
JUAN GONZALEZ: Governor Richardson, I’d like to turn the discussion to immigration a little bit. You have made some pretty strong statements in recent weeks over the crisis that your state is facing in terms of surges of undocumented immigrants coming across the border. Could you talk to us about it, so that other people in the rest of the country can get a better understanding of what you’re facing and why you have made the statements you have and taken the actions that you have in the past few weeks?
BILL RICHARDSON: Well, Juan, what I did was I declared a state of emergency along the New Mexico-Mexico border. Actually, we do border a little bit with Texas in the El Paso area. But I did so because there is a lack of Federal presence at our border. We were having not just illegal immigration come in, but illegal drug smuggling. There was violence, cattle were being killed. And the border patrol and the Federal presence was nowhere. So, what I said is we need some help. And these funds that I would get from an emergency declaration could at least help on the law enforcement side. Now, I believe the governments of the United States and Mexico — this is a Federal issue, and because we don’t have a national immigration policy, as a state, we were forced to take action. The Congress needs to deal with immigration. They need to improve border security. But also, Juan, we need to look at the 12 million undocumented workers that are in the United States and find a way to deal with that and not treat them like they’re in the shadows. We have to be realistic. So, there’s been a little progress on the New Mexico border. Just yesterday I had also called for a town across the New Mexico state line to be demolished because it was a staging area for drugs and illegal immigrant traffic. That is happening. So, the Mexican government is starting to respond. But here at our border, that’s one of the biggest issues, the lack of a Federal immigration policy. We need stronger border security but we also need to deal realistically and humanely with the 12 million undocumented workers that are right now living in the shadows in America.
JUAN GONZALEZ: But as you well know, as former U.N. Ambassador, the enormous gap in incomes that exist between Latin America and the United States is continuing to fuel this migration, and what seems to be happening is that the government sets up stronger protection in the — say, on the California side of the border, the Arizona side of the border, so then the migrants just move to other areas of the border to be able to get through. So, what can be done to get at the root of this enormous surge of immigration that the United States has been experiencing from Latin America over the past 30, 40 years now?
BILL RICHARDSON: Well, first, there has to be jobs. And we need to work with Mexico on creating jobs, not just at the border, but in the center of Mexico, where most of this traffic originates from. And I must say that Mexico, while our partner and our friend, this is sort of a safety valve for them. So they don’t exactly work very hard in my judgment, at creating the jobs on their side that will necessarily stem the flow to our side. Look, this is a problem that our nation has faced, but we have also been — we’re a nation of immigrants, and so we should deal realistically with this issue and not demagogue it. What I think is needed, Juan, is a Federal immigration policy that says, look, let’s deal realistically with the 12 million that are in America. Those that have proper behavior, that pay their taxes, that are part of the community. Let’s give them a process of legalization. Let’s not say that you are going to give them citizenship or amnesty, but instead of saying you’re going to deport them as some are saying that 12 million, I don’t know how you are going to do that, let’s be realistic, but at the same time, let’s enforce our laws. Let’s make sure that employers do not hire illegally and have fines if that happens. We’re not doing that. Let’s have sensible detection at the border and let’s work with Mexico so that at least in the boarder States of Mexico, there’s more job creation, and we can work to incentivize with them to make that happen. But we have never done that.
AMY GOODMAN: Governor, we just returned from New Orleans, and one of the people we met with was the Honduran consular agent in Baton Rouge and learned an amazing fact, that roughly 10% of the population of New Orleans is Honduran, the largest population of Hondurans outside of Honduras. Many of them fled hurricane Mitch, which took the lives of some 10,000 people. Some were afraid to leave their homes in New Orleans, afraid that the authorities would go after them, whether or not they had documents, so many didn’t have documents after the hurricane. Now, though, I wanted to ask you a question overall about this attitude toward immigrants and in New Mexico, as we were coming into New Mexico, we heard that a local politician was calling for militia men to come to New Mexico, saying it was a good idea. What about that, and do you fear that calling for the demolition of a small community on the border can lead — can fuel these kinds of feelings?
BILL RICHARDSON: Well, you’re looking and you’re in a state that’s probably the most immigrant-friendly in America. We allow drivers licenses for immigrants. We allow tuition for immigrant kids, provided they meet academic standards and they’re one year in New Mexico institution. We’re a nation of immigrants.
But at the same time, Amy, I think that when at our border, our Hispanic and Angelo and native Americas are threatened by illegal drug traffic, by kidnappings, by violence, by, you know, bad people are brought forth when illegal activity takes place, then you have to enforce the laws. I have to protect my citizens. No, I don’t believe that what I simply did with Las Chepas, this is the town we’re referring to, is I said let’s demolish some of these buildings where some of the staging areas for drug and illegal immigrant traffic is taking place and just get rid of the buildings where this is happening. That is happening, so I believe that is a positive step.
But no, I don’t want the minutemen here. And I have said so. I don’t want the minutemen here. They’re not trained. The Federal border patrol should be doing this job. But in the absence of any presence at my border, and your comment was true, because perhaps there’s been some success in Arizona and California in controlling the border, that the illegal traffic has moved to New Mexico, that is probably true, I have got to take measures to protect my citizens, and we don’t want to do it in a confrontational way. Again, we were the — one of the first States to — and the reason we have licenses for undocumented workers, is you can keep track of them, they get insurance, it’s a safety issue. I don’t want New Mexicans vulnerable to drivers without insurance and without licenses. So, it makes sense. I don’t understand why this is resisted?
JUAN GONZALEZ: Governor, I’d like to ask you, you had not only have a very large Latino population within New Mexico, obviously, you have a significant Native America population within your state. I’d like to ask you about how you see Bush administration policies over the last few years their impact on the Native Americas in your state and throughout the nation, and what you think is missing in that policy?
BILL RICHARDSON: Well, what’s missing is attention, Juan. And I got to tell you, I mean, I was in the Clinton administration, and we paid attention to native American issues, but not as much as we should. So, this has been a proverbial problem with past administrations. One of the big issues — one, respect for sovereignty that you are dealing with nations that are sovereign under our Constitution. Secondly, Federal funding. Under a number of legal relationships, we have got to provide the Federal government funding for education, for health care, for infrastructure, and we don’t do it. It’s always puny amounts. And so the native Americas are not getting their fair and equal share in that area. And then you have got large pockets of poverty on Indian reservations that nobody wants to talk about. So they’re just kind of pushed aside.
So, again, in my state, there is vibrant native America population, gaming has started here. There are pros and cons to gaming for some of the Indian tribes. The Navajo reservation is in my state. They’re fortunate to have energy resources. But still, a lot of problems and challenges. So, if there’s one word for the Federal government for the Bush administration, for any administration, it’s pay attention to our Native American population. They’re in great needs here, and we must do something.
AMY GOODMAN: Governor Richardson, we flew in yesterday to Albuquerque airport. And as we were flying in, we saw this piece in the "TIMES" in Bush’s trail, scarred ground. It says, when people refer to battlegrounds in presidential races, they’re usually not thinking of airport runways, but those people probably have not heard of runway 422 at the airport in Las Cruces, New Mexico, the runway, the airport’s longest, has been closed since President Bush made a campaign stop in August, 2004.
It has gouges six inches deep and 100 yards long, which the city says were put there by two air force cargo planes accompanying the President. Las Cruces puts the damage at $2.1 million. The city said airport officials warned the air force that the planes, a giant c-17 and military version of the 757 were too heavy and that the hot asphalt would be too soft for landing that day. The air force has offered Las Cruces $600,000, which leaves them some, well around $1.5 million in the hole. What are you calling for?
BILL RICHARDSON: Well, I want them to pay the full amount. And I’m going to be helping, and our Congressional delegation has been sending the message, that this should be a cost of the Federal government. And you know, the President was very adept in campaigning in areas like Las Cruces that are basically battleground areas, and he campaigned a lot of small cities with little airports, but this is something that a presidential visit should be responsible for. And so —
AMY GOODMAN: Should the air force even be paying? Shouldn’t it be the presidential campaign coffers — the campaign chest?
BILL RICHARDSON: What happens, Amy, as you know, if it’s a political trip and there’s some official business, it’s kind of split in half. I don’t care who pays for it, but somebody should. Because that has affected this airport in a city that is very vibrant, that is growing, a lot of economic activity. Yet we need to get that airport refurbished, otherwise it’s going to affect the commerce in that community.