SUNLAND PARK, N.M. – The attorney general for the border state of New Mexico warned Monday that the Trump administration’s zero-tolerance policy on illegal border crossings has the potential to impede and detract from efforts to prosecute organized crime along the southern U.S. border.
New Mexico Attorney General Hector Balderas visited the border fence Monday at Sunland Park to talk with local elected and law enforcement officials about crime and public safety. Later, he met in El Paso, Texas, with prosecutors from the Mexican state of Chihuahua.
Balderas, a Democrat, said by phone that he fears some law enforcement efforts and cooperation could be undermined by the Trump administration’s zero-tolerance policy of referring all illegal border crossing cases for criminal prosecution.
U.S. attorneys may be overburdened by low-level immigration cases, playing into the hands of international criminals, he said. Balderas also fears tough rhetoric on immigration might discourage immigrants from cooperating on human trafficking cases.
“We need families to feel safe and work with local law enforcement,” he said. “But if you’re putting children and men and women in cages, and you’re putting immigrant communities in the shadows, you could actually increase crime at the border.”
By contrast, U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions has cast the Trump administration’s zero-tolerance immigration stand as a step forward for police and public safety in general. Amid an international outcry, Trump last week issued an executive order to stop the separation of immigrant families at the border and said parents and children will instead be detained together.
Balderas said crime rates are relatively low in Sunland Park – a working class community whose modest homes stand within a few yards of a tall metal border fence that was reinforced in 2016 and 2017 – in comparison with the state’s largest city, Albuquerque.
He said his trip to the border was designed to increase cooperation among local and state law enforcement agencies – including collaboration with state prosecutors in Mexico who routinely travel to the New Mexico for professional training.