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US-Mexico migrant crisis sparks tension in borderland region

The increasing influx of migrants seeking asylum at the U.S.-Mexico border has sparked tension in the upcoming 2024 presidential election race, with its consequences felt across the borderland region. 

Migrants warm to a fire at dawn after spending the night outside next to the U.S.-Mexico border fence Dec. 22, 2022, in El Paso, Texas. (Photo by John Moore/Getty Images)

The ramifications of the border situation have affected neighboring cities such as El Paso, Texas, and Las Cruces, allowing New Mexico State University and the University of Texas at El Paso to conduct immigration research. The two universities joined forces through the National Science Foundation Research Experience for Undergraduates to present findings regarding border and immigration policy.  

Along with being a principal investigator in the program, NMSU government professor Neil Harvey helped students produce a report in 2021 based on data from immigrants held in the Otero County Processing Center in Chaparral, New Mexico. 

“Students could help in transcribing the handwritten notes from phone calls and analyzing those transcripts to determine patterns of troubling conditions in these detention centers that should be known about, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic,” Harvey said.  

According to El Paso Matters, interviews conducted with immigrants detained at multiple El Paso-area U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement facilities show “abuse throughout several stages and facets of the immigration process.” This includes pre-detention conditions and legal issues in ICE detention.

Despite the alleged poor conditions, the city of El Paso’s official website said migrants that enter city shelters “are provided sleeping accommodations, food, water, first aid and transportation.” 

Misinformation has circulated on social media and elsewhere suggesting that an open border has caused the influx of asylum seekers into the country. However, this is not accurate. The U.S.-Mexico border continues to operate under the same tightly regulated conditions as before. (Photo by Jorge Fonseca)

Misconceptions have circulated suggesting that an open border has caused the influx of asylum seekers into the country. However, this is not accurate. The border continues to operate under the same tightly monitored conditions as before. 

Despite the same border policies, NMSU student Jorge Fonseca said he has noticed a difference in the process of crossing the border in recent years. “Now, when crossing the border, they have begun putting these huge scanners on the bridges,” Fonseca said. “As far as I know, the Ysleta-Zaragoza bridges have started using them. Because these things are like big microwaves, people who cross the border daily for work or any other reason may be of concern [for their] health. The reason they put these scanners in is really because of the high traffic of immigrants.”  

According to the International Organization for Migration 2023 report, the number of migrants flowing into the U.S. surged by 62% in the first eight months of the year, compared to the same time frame in 2022. 

According to Pew Research Center data, U.S. Customs and Border Protection had “nearly 250,000 encounters with migrants crossing into the United States from Mexico in December 2023.” (Graph courtesy of Pew Research Center)

The national migrant crisis in the U.S. has been a growing concern for both Democratic and Republican administrations for years. However, in early February of this year the Republican party sank the Senate’s $118 billion bipartisan border deal and foreign aid package. Despite initial conservative efforts to push the bill that would’ve toughened border restrictions and policies, its failure came after backlash from former President Donald Trump.  

The resistance that stopped the progression of this bill was mirrored in New Mexico in the same week when the upper chamber of the New Mexico Legislature rejected Senate Bill 145. This bill aimed to prohibit local governments from engaging in or renewing contracts with ICE for the detention of asylum seekers in the country.  

Sofia Genovese, the managing attorney at the New Mexico Immigrant Law Center and an expert on the bill, said she was disappointed in this decision. 

“We didn’t see Democrats live up to New Mexican values today,” Genovese said. “It’s really disappointing because people will continue to suffer in these facilities, and they’ll certainly continue to hear about it from us. Each and every single time someone suffers harm, each and every single time someone dies, they’re going to hear about it.” 

As asylum seekers continue to migrate to the U.S., the southern borderland region and its neighboring communities will experience the impact of immigration to a degree unmatched in years. However, there are programs in Las Cruces and El Paso dedicated to assisting these migrants. Today, the Border Servant Corps: Assistance at Hospitality Center and the Las Americas Immigrant Advocacy Center are two organizations in the area that advocate for human rights by providing support to asylum seekers at the southern border. 

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