Views on immigration, border wall set New Mexico congressional candidates apart

Border Report

Republican Yvette Herrell challenges Democratic incumbent's commitment to uphold immigration and gun laws

EL PASO, Texas (Border Report) – New Mexico’s 2nd Congressional District has voted Republican 35 out of the past 39 years.

So, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that the Democratic one-term incumbent goes into political debates talking about border security, and being a hunter and the granddaughter of a former police officer.

“I don’t support defunding the police department […] I know how crucial the local law enforcement is to our community,” U.S. Rep. Xochitl Torres Small said at one such recent forum. “(But) taking on the challenges of systemic racism is a key part of that. After voting for George Floyd legislation, I spoke to local law enforcement. One of the biggest things I heard was lack of resources.”

The district encompasses all Southern New Mexico up to the lower suburbs of Albuquerque. It includes counties like Doña Ana that voted for Hillary Clinton in 2016 and mining and oil-rich regions that did not.

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It also shares 180 miles of international border with Mexico and how best to secure that border and deal with unauthorized immigrants is a point of contention between Torres Small and Republican rival Yvette Herrell.

“I support President Trump’s efforts to finish building the wall. Congress must also provide equipment, resources and tools to our Border Patrol and ICE agents. And we must enforce the laws that clearly outline legal entry into our nation,” Herrell recently told an Albuquerque newspaper.

Workers replace an old section of the wall between the US and Mexico following orders by US President Donald Trump, in Santa Teresa, New Mexico State, US, close to El Paso, Texas, on April 23, 2018. (HERIKA MARTINEZ/AFP via Getty Images)

She said she’s against a “blanket amnesty” program for undocumented immigrants regardless of how long they’ve been in the country.

“We have a constitutional responsibly for the safety, health and welfare of our country. The wall has done a great job slowing the number of people coming here illegally but always we can do more,” Herrell said at a recent televised debate. “(We need) boots on the ground and make sure Border Patrol and ICE have the tools that they need. And we need to enforce the laws.”

Yvette Herrel, left, and U.S. Rep. Xochitl Torres Small.

Herrell represented the Alamogordo area in the New Mexico House of Representatives from 2011-2018. She lost a close election to Torres Small two years ago after fellow Republican U.S. Rep. Steve Pearce decided to forego reelection to run for governor. Pearce lost to Democrat Michelle Lujan Grisham.

Torres Small, a lawyer and former staff member to U.S. Sen. Tom Udall, D-NM, said she opposes border wall construction. She has called it an “ineffective and inefficient use of our resources.”

Earlier this year she told Border Report she’s in favor of doing in-depth studies of whether sensors, cameras or more personnel should sub for a wall where there is none.

“I walked the line with Border Patrol agents and CBP officers. I’ve seen how different their needs are, depending on where they are. That’s why I introduced legislation that was supported by Democrats and Republicans in the House to do a mile-by-mile analysis, so we know what they need in specific places,” she said.

Legalization of migrants vs. enforcing existing laws

Torres Small said she supports immigration reform that includes legalization for undocumented immigrants and a path to citizenship.

“I worked with Republicans and Democrats to reform the H-2 visa program so dairy and pecan farmers that work year-round can have access to migrant labor, the legal workforce they rely on,” she said. “I also voted on the Dream and Promise Act so that those whose only home they’ve known is New Mexico are able to earn citizenship. […] If you want to work hard and follow our laws and contribute to our economy, there should be a legal way to do that.”

Demonstrators hold a rally in favor of granting sanctuary to immigrants. (AP file photo)

Asked about White House threats to withhold resources from so-called sanctuary cities that refuse to cooperate with federal authorities, Torres Small says public resources shouldn’t be conditioned to choices individual communities make.

Herrell is against sanctuary cities. “I don’t think we should protect those who are in our nation illegally, many of them with criminal backgrounds. I think that’s a disservice to tax-paying Americans who abide by the rules,” Herrell said. “I do think we should consider pulling federal funding from those sanctuary cities.”

She does say she’s in favor of lawful work permits for agricultural workers and hiring more immigration judges to expedite the backlog of immigration cases at the border.

“Congress must take action to fix the immigration system and worker visa program. Migrant workers are important to our agricultural industries,” Herrell said.

Other issues

Both candidates say they support the oil and gas industry in New Mexico, more trade with Mexico and expanding broadband internet connectivity in rural areas. Both stick close to their parties’ platforms on issues such as abortion, the Affordable Care Act and balancing stay-at-home measures and the economic recovery during COVID-19.

But subtle differences come up when it comes to gun control.

(photo courtesy KRQE)

“I grew up in a household that owned guns. I’m a hunter. One of the early serious conversations I had with my grandfather was that checklist that you run through every time you use a gun as a tool to make sure you’re keeping yourself and other safe,” Torres Small said at a candidates’ forum.

She said she “stood up” to the Democratic Party’s attempt to expand the waiting period for gun sales background checks from three days to 10 because “10 days in New Mexico is an entire hunting season.”

But her opponent points out that Torres Small has stated she wants to “close loopholes” in gun laws. Herrell said she’ll defend gun laws.

“I will not support any legislation that would have an impact on our Second Amendment. I have a voting record in Santa Fe that proves I’ve been an advocate for the Second Amendment,” Herrell said. “I will not vote on anything that would impede you to own and bear arms.”

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