- Associated Press - Monday, March 7, 2016

ANIMAS, New Mexico (AP) - Ranchers in southwestern New Mexico are calling for better security at the Mexico border.

The cattle growers associations of both New Mexico and Arizona are hosting a meeting this week in Animas, New Mexico, to voice their problems to elected officials, The Albuquerque Journal reported (http://bit.ly/1QFPCW7).

Ranchers in the Bootheel region say the area is overrun by illegal traffic from Mexico, particularly drug trafficking.

“The folks down there have never gotten any relief from illegal crossings,” said Caren Cowan, executive director of the Albuquerque-based New Mexico Cattle Growers’ Association. “And things have ramped up. These people are desperate. They are absolutely desperate.”

Cowan said there have been meetings before, but that they have been ineffective.

“I say this with all due respect, all we hear about is what they are trying to do and nothing gets done,” Cowan said.

Republican U.S. Rep. Steve Pearce, whose southern New Mexico district includes Hidalgo County, is scheduled to attend the meeting and a number of other elected officials have been invited.

Border Patrol reported apprehending 11,000 unauthorized border crossers in fiscal 2015 and seizing more than 15,000 pounds of marijuana, though a spokesman said it is unknown how much of those incidents were in the Bootheel region.

According to a Border Patrol spokesman, the Lordsburg station has been understaffed in recent months, but agents are slated to fill the 50 open positions in the coming months. The station is budgeted for 284 agents.

“The border is not secure,” said Erica Valdez, who ranches more than 40,000 acres between Animas and Lordsburg, about 35 miles north of the border. “It doesn’t matter how tall of a wall you put up, they are going to tunnel under it, they are going to torch through it. If they want to come across, they will. The only way they are going to stop it is with boots on the ground at the border. We would like to see more agents.”

The outrage comes months after a ranch hand in the area was kidnapped by alleged drug runners in Animas. Organizers said the organized the meeting because of the incident. The worker survived the kidnapping but the community is still reeling from his attack.

FBI spokesman Frank Fisher said no arrests have been made in the alleged kidnapping but declined to comment further, citing the pending investigation.

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Information from: Albuquerque Journal, http://www.abqjournal.com

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