The flow of migrants arriving at the state’s border with Mexico appears to have tapered off in March following a surge of several large groups being apprehended near the ports of entry over the previous months, New Mexico’s chief of homeland security said Thursday.
Homeland Security and Emergency Management Secretary Jackie White told reporters that the brunt of immigration pressure is being felt at border crossings in neighboring El Paso, Texas, where hundreds of asylum seekers can enter in a single day, with many moving on to shelters in New Mexico.
White said that state police have seen little activity recently as they reinforce security in Hidalgo County within the sparsely populated southwestern Bootheel of New Mexico.
“There isn’t a lot of business,” White said. “They aren’t inundated with a lot of work.”
A group of over a hundred migrants was encountered last week by Border Patrol in the area of Antelope Wells, but that migrant traffic still appears to have shifted to the El Paso area, said Claudia Tristán, a spokeswoman for Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham.
“At Antelope Wells, the numbers have definitely decreased over the month of March,” she said.
This trend marks a shift, as New Mexico drew attention earlier this year when federal border authorities began arresting large groups of people who illegally crossed in more remote locations near Antelope Wells and Lordsburg and at Sunland Park, just west of El Paso, Texas.
In the waning days of February, agents apprehended a group of 180 migrants — most of them Central American families and unaccompanied minors — after they crossed near Sunland Park.
A couple weeks earlier, 311 people made their way around the pedestrian fence at the port before being taken into custody. That was less than 24 hours after agents working in New Mexico’s Bootheel region encountered another group of 330 people.
U.S. Customs and Border Protection did not report any large groups at the New Mexico ports in March. But apprehensions all along the southern border have soared in recent months. Border agents were on track to make 100,000 arrests and denials of entry in March, more than half of them families with children. Officials are expected to release new numbers next week.
In the El Paso sector, which includes part of West Texas and all of New Mexico, the agency reported the number of families taken into custody for the fiscal year as of February was up 1,689% when compared with the same period last year.
With shelters in El Paso and southern New Mexico at capacity, faith-based organizations in Albuquerque — nearly 280 miles from the border — have helped roughly 1,000 migrants since mid-February.
The groups were small at first, but they have been growing and the arrivals have become more frequent, said Jim Gannon, CEO and executive director of Catholic Charities in Albuquerque.
The New Mexico Department of Health has dispatched a mobile health care unit to the Las Cruces area to provide volunteer doctors a space for conducting medical assessments for those migrants who are temporarily staying at shelters there.
In Hidalgo County, six state police officers are stationed there to reinforce the local contingent of four law enforcement officers, White said. The county spans 3,400 square miles (8,900 square kilometers), or nearly three times the area of Rhode Island.
Efforts are underway to expand two-way radio communication in the area where none currently exists, White said.
New Mexico has 18 National Guard troops at the border.