EL PASO, Texas (Border Report) – There’s no one-size-fits-all solution for securing the U.S.-Mexico border. But if you listen to the stakeholders, they’ll tell you where more border wall is needed and where better technology or more boots on the ground will do the job, says Xochitl Torres Small.
“When you have urban to urban contact it can be important to have a physical barrier; in rural and remote areas perhaps technology and personnel are more important,” she said. “We should be looking at all of that and I’m really concerned that if you turn something into a campaign issue rather than looking at the details, you’re not achieving the security you’re talking about.”
Democrat Torres Small last week concluded her stint as New Mexico District 2 representative in the 116th U.S. Congress after losing the Nov. 3 election to Republican Yvetter Herrell.
On Monday, she reflected on her two-year tenure in a district that’s flipped between red and blue in the past decade. She hasn’t decided whether to challenge Herrell in two years, but said she remains committed to “serving my home and New Mexico in the future.”
Meantime, she is stressing the importance of lessons learned, such as using smart policy to deter illegal activity and bolster cross-border commerce in a region where interaction with Mexico is a fact of life.
“The biggest challenge I hear from people who live and work in the Boot Hill of New Mexico is communication. (U.S. Border Patrol agents) have trouble reaching each other because of the mountainous terrain,” Torres Small said. “The border looks very different at Antelope Wells than it does in Sunland Park […] And that’s my frustration with building a wall all the way across the U.S.-Mexico border. We have to look at the most efficient solutions to secure the border and support our trade.”
Torres Small represented a district contiguous to El Paso, Texas and Juarez, Mexico, which have developed a strong cross-border economy spearheaded by U.S.-run plants in Juarez that manufacture components for many Fortune 500 companies in the United States and elsewhere.
Torres Small sees the same dynamic emerging at Santa Teresa, New Mexico-San Jeronimo, Mexico, and supports continued improvements there.
“Santa Teresa is already one of our biggest ports of entry in terms of the money that flows through (the border crossing). We have a great location in terms of logistics and moving the materials that come in. I’m hopeful we will continue to grow a healthy export-import economy in New Mexico as a result,” she said.
Some of her last actions in the House of Representatives was to vote for funding a study to have X-ray vehicle inspection technology, known as Non-Intrusive Inspection (NII), at all U.S.-Mexico ports of entry. She also voted to renew public-private partnerships allowing industry to invest in border crossing. The Santa Teresa port of entry got pedestrian sidewalks as a result of that partnership.
“The majority of drugs from Mexico come through our ports of entry, rather than in between. That’s why NII tech is important. There’s billions of dollars backlogged — back-logged in terms of infrastructure for the ports of entry — that’s why the mile-by-mile analysis is important,” she said.
Torres Small cited the NII funding as an example of the way she was able to work with her Republican colleagues. Other instances included COVID-19 funds for health care and for internet funding in rural areas. She also said she was able to reconcile New Mexico farmers and farm workers’ interests through the Farm Workforce Modernization Act.
“I was proud of the common ground that we were able to build, making sure we were finding common sense solutions and recognizing they don’t always come with a party label,” she said.