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New Mexico land boss to Border Patrol: Stop trespassing
Helicopter video shows border fencing along New Mexico state land near the Santa Teresa International Port of Entry, as it stood in summer 2017. USA TODAY NETWORK
SANTA TERESA - New Mexico State Land Commissioner Aubrey Dunn on Tuesday said the Border Patrol has been trespassing on a piece of land just east of the Santa Teresa Port of Entry in southern Doña Ana County.
Using a hand-held drill, Dunn installed "no trespassing" signs on posts at the edge of state-owned land, abutted by a 15-foot-tall border fence separating the United States from Mexico. And his assistant commissioner roped plastic tape across a dirt road used regularly by Border Patrol agents.
Dunn, a U.S. Senate candidate running as a Libertarian, acknowledged Tuesday's move was likely symbolic; he said he didn't expect the tape to stop the federal agency from traveling the road, which crosses a one-mile segment of state trust land. But he said the move sends a message.
"They do not have access to come across our lands," he said.
Dunn's recent focus on state lands abutting the international border was sparked by New Mexico lawmakers, who debated a proposal in the recent legislative session to block construction of a border wall proposed by President Donald Trump. Dunn said his office fielded inquiries from legislators, and, in response researched the ownership history of the 22 miles of state-owned land on the international border.
The land office concluded that nearly all of the state land along the U.S-Mexico border is subject to a 1907 proclamation by President Theodore Roosevelt that reserved a 60-foot-wide strip of land for border protection activities. But it also determined that one mile of state trust land — the parcel visited by Dunn on Tuesday — wasn't subject to the proclamation.
"The section in question we got prior to 1907, so it doesn't have that reservation," Dunn said.
The Border Patrol needs a permit from the State Land Office for a 60-foot easement on the mile-long parcel to have a fence and a road, Dunn said. The estimated cost for a 35-year permit is $19,200. He noted that doesn't factor in the cost of the alleged trespassing that's taken place in the past.
The 15-foot-tall fence in this area has been in place about a decade, since its authorization under the President George W. Bush administration.
State Land Office spokeswoman Kristin Haase said entities wanting to use state trust lands start with an application.
"We'd want to negotiate a right-of-way for them to purchase," she said.
U.S. Customs and Border Protection told the Associated Press it is evaluating Dunn’s concerns. The agency said in a statement Tuesday that part of the strategy for securing the border includes developing and leveraging partnerships with state and local stakeholders.
Awaiting a response
Dunn said he sent a letter to the federal government about two weeks ago but hasn't heard back. The revenue from state trust lands benefits schools, which he argued are being shortchanged by the federal government.
Also, Dunn is taking issue with a second parcel of state trust land on which the federal government has installed "electric lights and a structure," as well as a road, outside of the 60-foot easement it has along the border. He estimated a right-of-way to correct the situation would cost the federal government $9,200.
Dunn said he hasn't spoken with New Mexico's federal delegation or state lawmakers about the alleged trespassing by the Border Patrol. He said he also doesn't want to file a court action over the matter, but he acknowledged he could do so in federal court. He said his agency could take more drastic steps of fencing off the parcels in question, blocking the Border Patrol's access more permanently, or dismantling the border fence in that one-mile segment.
"Hopefully we won't have to go that far," he said.
Mick Rich, a Republican candidate also seeking New Mexico's U.S. Senate seat, criticized Dunn's actions, contending they were a "dangerous stunt" aimed at generating publicity. The campaign contended that Dunn, by hindering the Border Patrol's activities, exposes the border to crossing attempts, such as from drug smugglers. And he called the land commissioner a "typical career politician."
Dunn responded to the contention that his attempt to block off land was in connection to his bid for the Senate seat, saying he would have done the same thing, even if he wasn't a candidate.
"Whether I was running for office or not, we'd take the same standpoint on this," he said.
State Rep. Bill McCamley, D-Las Cruces, and three other state lawmakers introduced the proposal to attempt to block the federal government from building a wall on state trust lands. The measure never got out of a committee during the recent session.
Dunn said he believes the proposal to block a border wall could only apply on the one-mile segment of state trust lands that the state received prior to 1907.
Dunn said he backs border security, but regarding the proposed wall, "I don't think it is going to stop immigration."
Reporter Dennis Wagner reports from a helicopter above the Gulf of Mexico at the start of an almost 2,000 mile journey along the U.S.-Mexico border. A USA TODAY NETWORK video production.
Reporter Dennis Wagner above what is the first sign of a fence several miles from the mouth of the Rio Grande in Texas. A USA TODAY NETWORK video production.
As reporter Dennis Wagner makes his way along the U.S, Mexico border, a fence only a few miles long appears south of El Paso. A USA TODAY NETWORK video production.
Reporter Dennis Wagner soars above the U.S.-Mexico border in the Rio Grande Valley. A USA TODAY NETWORK video production.
Reporter Dennis Wagner above the town of Los Ebanos, Texas. A USA TODAY NETWORK video production.
Reporter Dennis Wagner above a border bridge in Laredo, Texas, where President Donald Trump visited. A USA TODAY NETWORK video production.
Reporter Dennis Wagner along the Rio Grande, considering the idea of a border wall. A USA TODAY NETWORK video production.
Reporter Dennis Wagner breaks down what it might take to cross the Rio Grande in Texas. A USA TODAY NETWORK video production.
Reporter Dennis Wagner describes the border between the U.S and Mexico at Lake Amistad in Texas. A USA TODAY NETWORK video production.
Reporter Dennis Wagner above Big Bend National Park, where topography would make it difficult to put up a border wall. A USA TODAY NETWORK video production.
Reporter Dennis Wagner, after several hundred miles of twists and turns of the U.S.-Mexico border, describes a straight line just west of El Paso. A USA TODAY NETWORK video production.
Reporter Dennis Wagner flies over the ranch where U.S. Border Patrol Agent Brian Terry was gunned down. A USA TODAY NETWORK video production.
Reporter Dennis Wagner flies near the Barry M. Goldwater Air Force Range, one of the most dangerous places to cross the border. A USA TODAY NETWORK video production.
Reporter Dennis Wagner flies over the sand dunes and the "floating fence" west of Yuma, Arizona. A USA TODAY NETWORK video production.
Reporter Dennis Wagner above Otay Mesa in California, where prototypes for a border wall were expected to be built. A USA TODAY NETWORK video production
After almost 2,000 miles of reporting from a helicopter over the U.S.-Mexico border, Dennis Wagner concludes his journey. A USA TODAY NETWORK video production.
- Border tour: The journey begins
- Border tour: The first fence
- Border tour: A border fence appears
- Border tour: In the Rio Grande Valley
- Border tour: Communities that could be cut off
- Border tour: A key visit to Laredo
- Border tour: A low flight over Rio Grande
- Border tour: Crossing the border
- Border tour: Over Lake Amistad
- Border tour: Big Bend National Park
- Border tour: A straight line
- Border tour: Over a fateful spot
- Border tour: A desolate desert
- Border tour: A land of dunes
- Border tour: Site of the prototypes
- Border tour: The journey ends