Local officials met with federal authorities Tuesday at the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center in Artesia to learn more about the impending arrival of hundreds or even thousands of illegal immigrants from Central America.
Roswell Mayor Dennis Kintigh, Republican state Reps. Candy Spence Ezzell and Bill Gray, and Gray’s GOP successor, James Townsend, had a 2-hour meeting Tuesday with officials of FLETC and the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.
Meanwhile, in the nation’s capital, U.S. Rep. Steve Pearce announced Tuesday he had been selected to a working group of House Republicans examining the unfolding national security and humanitarian crises.
Ezzell, R-Roswell, said she was invited to Tuesday’s meeting by FLETC director Terry Todd. She said the 2-hour meeting included officials from the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency.
“We asked the hard questions. This time, they had to answer them,” Ezzell said. “It was something else. I’m appalled. I really am.”
Ezzell said stuffed animals and other toys, televisions, medical care, education, day care, an in-room cleaning service, laundry services and three meals a day await the hundreds of Central American children and adults expected to begin arriving this week.
“They are putting these people in barracks that are nicer than most hotel rooms,” Ezzell said. “Each room will have a TV in it, new mattresses, the whole nine yards. They will have their linens laundered and everything. I’m appalled.
“Gosh dang, it just really, really bothers me. We have veterans that aren’t cared for like these illegals are going to be cared for. We have senior citizens that are not going to be treated as well as these people are going to be.”
Kintigh said he brought City Manager Larry Fry and Chief of Police Phil Smith with him to the meeting.
“We went over to actually where they are going to be housing these individuals,” Kintigh said, adding the accommodations are much like college dormitories.
The mayor said the illegal immigrants will be housed in the modular dorms installed at FLETC a few years ago. He estimated each dorm room could house up to eight people.
Kintigh said an 8-foot- tall chain-link fence will surround the area where waves of illegal immigrants will be housed for indefinite periods of time. Kintigh, a retired FBI agent, said the barrier is hardly a security fence.
“There was no wire on top of the fence,” Kintigh said. “I believe I could have climbed that fence with no problem. It’s no serious detriment to people who have come a thousand miles. Those are my concerns. There’s no tower. I didn’t see any cameras. My concerns were much more technical or in the weakest security issues.”
Kintigh said he was assured by federal officials that the classification process would weed out “potential thugs or aggressive individuals,” and that dangerous illegal immigrants would not be sent to the Artesia facility.
“Even though their screening has been very good in the past, is it able to handle this volume?” Kintigh asked. “If they’re only wrong 1 percent of the time, and there’s a thousand, that’s 10 people.”
Kintigh said there has a been a lack of coordination between federal authorities and law enforcement officials from Chaves County.
“I don’t think they realized that Chaves County is 8 miles away, plus I would say, we’re in the direction they want to travel, and that is north,” Kintigh said.
The mayor said he’s also concerned about the communication between FLETC and law enforcement officers in Chaves County. He said he asked for a meeting of local and federal law enforcement authorities.
“I even urged them to consider some joint drills or trainings,” Kintigh said.
Chaves County Chief Deputy Sheriff Britt Snyder said he had confidence in federal authorities. Snyder did not go on the tour of FLETC Tuesday.
“My only concern is we don’t want any of these gang members from Central America to come to this country,” Snyder said. “I can’t imagine the border patrol is not way ahead of us on that issue. We’ve interacted with a lot of them over the years and they are extremely competent people. They’re experts at detaining people. But there are always some that may get through. I agree that’s a legitimate concern. We don’t want those people in our community at all.”
Snyder said one thing is for sure: Housing the illegal immigrants will be costly to American taxpayers.
“I don’t have much doubt the federal government will spend more money than they need to, but they’ll do a good job,” Snyder said. “Now that they’re here, what do we do?”
Snyder said calls for immigration amnesty should be preceded by border security. He said the arrival of tens of thousands of illegal immigrants each year is testament to an insecure border.
The federal government says more than 52,000 children traveling alone have been caught crossing the U.S.-Mexico border since October.
“We want our border to be secure,” Snyder said. “That’s what we want. Once we secure our border, we can talk about other issues. Until we do that, we’re kind of wasting our breath. They’ve got a serious crisis on our hands.
“What is Mexico doing to prevent them from crossing Mexico, other than putting them on a train headed to the border? We just don’t have much confidence in government in general these days. I can’t wait for another presidential election. It won’t be coming soon enough as far as I’m concerned.”
Ezzell also placed much of the blame at the feet of President Barack Obama, who critics charge instigated the waves of child illegal migration to the United States with the promise of amnesty.
Ezzell said she was assured the Artesia FLETC would not become a refugee camp. She said the first group of illegal immigrants is due to arrive Thursday and Friday. She said the facility can house 600 to 700 people and she was told there would be no unattended children.
“I guess it’s going to be non-stop from then on,” she said. “They said it would take several weeks to get these people processed. I’m outraged that our taxpayers are going to house these illegals. Yet we cannot afford to protect our veterans. I hope people will stand up and say, ‘We’re tired of this.’ Does any other country in the world do this?”
Ezzell said she was told about 10 percent of the illegal immigrants would be granted asylum because they have a relative in the United States, and would therefore be released. She said she was told 90 percent of the illegal immigrants would be sent back to their countries of origin.
“I’m really bothered by this 10 percent that will be released,” she said. “Where will they be released? Are they going to fly them to where they have connections, or are they going to be released in our area? They could not answer that question. I said I’m concerned about that. If one of those illegals does escape, they cannot be arrested. It can only be an administrative warrant.”
Ezzell said she also asked about education. She said she was told by federal authorities ICE would provide education for the children at Artesia via a contract with a charter school.
Ezzell said U.S. law requires federal authorities to detain children from countries other than Mexico. Federal officials say the bulk of the illegal immigrant children coming to Artesia are from El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras.
“Once they step on American soil, all they have to do is see a border patrol agent and say, ‘I’m seeking asylum,’” Ezzell said. “There’s no deterrent to stop these detainees. I understand America is where everybody wants to be because of everything America has to offer. I do understand the humanitarian aspect of it.”
Nonetheless, Ezzell said the drug cartels are profiting from the human smuggling, the children are being put in great peril, and the American taxpayers are left holding the bag.
“These people are coming from drug cartel trains and then riding all the way up to our border and then saying, ‘I am requesting asylum,’” she said. “The laws need to be changed. There is a right way into our country and there is an illegal way. We have to have immigration reform, and it’s not opening up our borders and risking our safety and protection in the United States.
“People need to write letters to Congress, senators, and say, ‘Change it.’”
Ezzell said the parents of the Central American children who allow or encourage their children to make the treacherous journey into the United States under the supervision of criminal organizations “constitutes child abuse and child abandonment.”
“It makes me so mad, it really does,” she said. “These parents have been sending their 5-, 6-, 7-year-olds on these trains to reach the United States. They should be horsewhipped. Why aren’t these other governments doing something to assure the safety of their own citizens?”
Pearce, R-Hobbs, announced Tuesday U.S. House Speaker John Boehner appointed him to a seven-member House working group of Republicans to advise the House of Representatives on the unfolding situation.
“I applaud Speaker Boehner for taking immediate steps to form this necessary group to address the humanitarian crisis and national security at our southern border,” Pearce said. “This disastrous situation will not end until we can secure our borders and develop an orderly process for legal immigration.”