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More federal land in New Mexico and Arizona transferred for border fencing

The “Symposium at the Wall: Cartels, Trafficking and Asylum” was held near the privately built border wall in Sunland Park, New Mexico. It was constructed by the WeBuildTheWall organization on American Eagle Brick Co. property. It is shown on Saturday, July 27, 2019. (Nathan J Fish/Sun-News/TNS)

More federal land near the U.S.-Mexico border in New Mexico’s Hidalgo County is being transferred to the U.S. Army to support border wall construction.

On Tuesday, the federal Bureau of Land Management announced a total of 65.75 acres of public land in Arizona and New Mexico had been committed by U.S. Interior Secretary David Bernhardt for utility infrastructure and roads for border security.

In February 2019, President Donald Trump declared a national emergency at the border in order to redirect billions of dollars toward construction of steel bollard fencing, after Congress appropriated $1.375 billion for the project rather than the $5.7 billion the president had requested.

Subsequently, the U.S. Department of Defense diverted $3.6 billion from previously approved construction projects, including $187.5 million in upgrades for New Mexico military installations White Sands Missile Range, Holloman Air Force Base, Kirtland Air Force Base and Cannon Air Force Base.

Instead, the funds have been committed to funding 11 border barrier projects.

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Last fall, Bernhardt transferred 560 acres to the Army, including more than 43 acres in Hidalgo County where vehicle barriers on the border were slated to be replaced with steel bollard fencing or “pedestrian barrier.”

In a July 15 public land order, Bernhardt committed an additional 12.74 acres of land in Hidalgo County to install power and utility infrastructure and build a road network accessing the construction.

Also transferred were 53 acres in Yuma County, Arizona, including land within the Roosevelt Reservation, a strip of land parallel to the border.

Federal lawmakers respond

U.S. Rep. Xochitl Torres Small, D-NM, whose district encompasses southern New Mexico including Hidalgo County, expressed sympathy for the Army’s logistical and operational challenges, yet remarked: “Adding additional acres and management of a border wall doesn’t help keep the focus on their important work. As I have always said, to secure our border we need a mile-by-mile analysis to identify and deploy the best measures and tactics for each section of our border.”

Meanwhile, U.S. Sen. Tom Udall, D-N.M., commented that New Mexico is “ground zero for the president’s unnecessary border wall,” which he called a “political pet project.”

“The Bureau of Land Management is meant to be a custodian of these lands for the American people, to whom they belong,” Udall said. “The Trump Interior Department should stop abusing its authority for partisan political stunts and focus on managing our resources and public lands in a way that preserves them for future generations.”

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© 2020 the Las Cruces Sun-News