President Trump’s border wall is a symbol of everything that’s wrong with his administration. The heated rhetoric about our border region coming from the White House is wildly out of touch with the realities of our experiences in New Mexico.
I’m familiar with nearly every mile of our state’s border with Mexico. A $25 billion boondoggle to construct a wall in our backyards is not only an outlandish waste of taxpayers’ money, it is not a smart investment in border security or what families and communities in New Mexico want or need.
Think of what we could do with that kind of money if we actually invested it wisely. Based on conservative estimates, we could fund center-based childcare for over 350,000 4-year-olds, public K-12 education for almost 300,000 students, or medical treatment for opioid addiction for more than 400,000 Americans with what would otherwise go to New Mexico’s portion of a border wall.
President Trump is instead unabashedly ransoming the lives of DREAMers as bargaining chips to achieve one of his most bigoted and divisive ideas.
When the Senate began a debate on the floor last month, I was hopeful that we could find a way to pass a bipartisan solution for DREAMers that included rational border security policies. However, I cannot support legislation that fails to reflect the perspectives and real needs of New Mexicans.
A close relationship with our southern neighbors has long helped write the economic, social, and cultural story of our state. Our border region’s unique binational economy has created jobs and tremendous opportunities for businesses in the area.
In fact, New Mexico has been one of the fastest-growing states in the country for jobs related to international exports.
In recent years, I’ve been proud to support a growing border economy by securing millions of dollars in federal funds and championing public-private partnerships to modernize transportation infrastructure, improve inspection facilities, and increase lawful international trade at our state’s ports of entry in Santa Teresa and Columbus.
I have also met with Border Patrol agents who patrol the vast, rugged terrain of New Mexico’s border region. I fought for greater investments in the resources and new technologies these agents need to do their jobs and keep our nation safe.
Unfortunately, President Trump has never been interested in responsible border security policies that would help us build a safer and more prosperous border region.
Over the years, I have made a point to sit down and listen to a wide range of New Mexicans who live in our state’s border region, including private landowners and ranchers in the Bootheel, business owners who rely on binational trade, and families living in vibrant, diverse cities like Deming and Las Cruces. None of these New Mexicans wants to see a massive border wall built right outside their living room window or additional interior checkpoints in their communities.
Our borderlands are also home to some of our most beautiful and ecologically rich landscapes. I’ve long enjoyed hiking, hunting, and camping with friends and family in the mountainous backcountry of the Bootheel and in the stunning scenery of the Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks National Monument.
The disastrous environmental impacts of a massive border wall on these public lands that contain critical habitat for species like Mexican gray wolves, jaguars, black bears, and pronghorn would be irreversible.
The message a border wall would send to the world would fly in the face of what has always made our nation great. We are a nation of immigrants that has thrived because of our enduring promise that led generations of striving immigrants to come here to work hard and build a better life for their families.
That includes my father, who emigrated from Germany as a young boy in the 1930s, today’s refugees and asylum seekers, who have escaped unthinkable violence and persecution, and Dreamers who have grown up not knowing any other nation than ours as home.
We must act with a sense of urgency to find a responsible way forward for DREAMers who are just as much a part of our communities in New Mexico as any one of us.
The time has come for President Trump to stop playing politics with the lives of DREAMers, to stop stirring up fear and division, and to get to work on real solutions to responsibly and fairly fix our immigration system.
Martin Heinrich represents New Mexico in the U.S. Senate.