The past few months have been a testament to the dangerous levels of anti-immigrant sentiment the current administration has inflamed within certain segments of our society.
First, a heavily armed militia group wearing military-style camo, face masks, and fake badges invaded Southern New Mexico and commenced possibly detaining migrant families with children at gunpoint. Hot on their heels, seemingly out of nowhere, came an outside group calling themselves We Build the Wall to build a half-mile of steel border fencing in Sunland Park, N.M., without first obtaining the proper construction permits or environmental impact reports. Then, when the Sunland Park officials sought to halt the project until the group went through the proper channels, We Build the Wall — working alongside the same armed vigilantes — mobilized their supporters to pressure Sunland Park city officials to allow them to resume construction.
Now we find ourselves in a new chapter of this increasingly bizarre and lawless tale of anti-immigrant hate and extremism. We Build the Wall, again without obtaining permission or a permit, built a massive steel gate across a federal public road, blocking access to Monument One, a monument listed on the National Register of Historic Places that has marked the start of the land boundary between New Mexico, Texas and Mexico since 1855.
Monument One sits on land administered by the U.S. International Boundary and Water Commission, a binational agency bound by treaty to administer the waterways that form part of our southern border with Mexico, and over the past century, the marker has become a place of historical and cultural significance for border residents. It’s a location popular with school field trips and a symbol of binational identity, unity, and goodwill. With the unauthorized installation of the gate, We Build the Wall unilaterally locked the community out of their own culture and history.
Earlier this week, after hundreds of New Mexicans reached out to IBWC to protest the private wall built on public property, officials removed the private lock from the gate and chained it open. True to form, the vigilante group and We Build the Wall immediately resumed their bullying and intimidation tactics.
It’s no wonder the group so brazenly flouts the law and terrorizes anyone standing in its way. Behind the project are President Donald Trump’s anti-immigrant cronies, Steve Bannon and Kris Kobach. When you’re doing the president's bidding — and stealing tactics right from his playbook — it’s easy to feel confident no repercussions will befall you.
This kind of behavior has no place in New Mexico, and it’s time to stand up to these out-of-state anti-immigrant bullies who have run roughshod over our border communities these past months. The IBWC did the right thing by forcing the gate to remain open. Now, they should continue to do the right thing by denying all permit applications for private construction of barriers on public property, removing the unauthorized gate, and requiring that We Build the Wall remediate public land to its prior state.
Our border communities deserve better than to be used as a backdrop for a racist and xenophobic publicity stunt that cuts us off from our history and threatens our environment. Our border region is home to a rich cultural heritage, economically vibrant communities, stunning natural beauty, and some of the safest cities in America. We deserve a little respect. Unfortunately, all we’ve been offered thus far by We Build the Wall and their gun-toting vigilante acolytes are threats, intimidation and half a mile of ugly steel rusting in the desert sun.
This op-ed was originally published in the El Paso Times.