Border Patrol, small New Mexico town forge strong bond amid migrant crisis

Border Report Tour

Sunland Park Police Chief: 'We help each other out because that's what law enforcement does'

Border Patrol rendered aid to two men in the desert near Sunland Park, New Mexico June 10, 2021 (Border Report Photo/Julian Resendiz)

SUNLAND PARK, New Mexico (Border Report) – The westward shift in illegal immigration in the El Paso Sector has forced this Southern New Mexico city to deal with waves of trespassing calls and assistance to individuals who get hurt crossing the border wall in the past few months.

It has also strengthened the partnership between the Sunland Park Police Department and the U.S. Border Patrol, whose agents need all the help they can get these days.

“We’ve had situations where people have thrown rocks at Border Patrol. They’re more than adequate to defend themselves, but still, we’ll go help them out because that’s what law enforcement does. We help each other out,” said Sunland Park Police Chief Javier Guerra.

Border agents also have come to the rescue when locals confront unexpected and potentially troubling migrant-related calls.

The agents assisted Sunland Park police earlier this week when two migrants dressed as students walked across a middle school campus and hid while waiting for their ride. The same held true last week when an elementary shut down after school officials spotted another migrant on the grounds.

“We tell principals to call us when that happens, and we respond. Border Patrol responds as well. It’s a partnership,” Guerra said.

That symbiotic relationship has just earned the department the “Stonegarden Partner Award” from the Border Patrol. Such partnerships are needed at a time when transnational criminal organizations look for vulnerable areas to profit from the migrant smuggling trade, said Gerardo Galvan, the agent in charge of the Santa Teresa Border Patrol station.

“The current flow of individuals exploiting the (border) in Southern New Mexico, specifically Sunland Park, continues to challenge (our) capacity to provide security to the residents and businesses of the communities we serve,” Galvan said. “The partnership between Chief Guerra and his team with the (Border Patrol) is aimed at providing a secure and safe community for the residents of Sunland Park, and Operation Stonegarden helps focus and enhance our joint efforts.” 

Operation Stonegarden is a Department of Homeland Security program that funds enhanced law enforcement in areas known as migrant corridors in border states and communities.

Sunland Park Police Chief Javier Guerra (Border Report photo)

“We have a great relationship with Border Patrol. We help each other with public safety in Sunland Park. They have their priority: enforcing immigration laws. Our job is answering 911 calls,” Guerra said. “(Sometimes) it turns out those calls are immigrant cases, so we’ll just call them to come and take charge.”

Unauthorized migration has shifted to the Sunland Park-Santa Teresa area partly because of geography and partly because of Mexican cartel activity.

A mountain standing 4,700 feet above sea level called Cristo Rey straddles the U.S.-Mexico border at Sunland Park, providing cover for groups of migrants and their “guides.” A half-a-mile jog gets those who jump the border wall — mostly Mexicans, Central Americans and Ecuadorians — to heavily Hispanic residential areas in Sunland Park.

Across the border, groups associated with the Juarez cartel, most notably “La Empresa” are taking over at least some of the smuggling activity in the Anapra area, serving as conduit for migrants coming as far away as Ecuador, authorities in the U.S. and Mexico say.

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