- The Washington Times - Monday, August 22, 2005

New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson said yesterday that he has not seen the Bush administration make progress on U.S.-Mexico border security and that is why he declared an emergency in four border counties this week.

“I respectfully disagree with the Department of Homeland Security. The border in New Mexico is porous,” Mr. Richardson said on ABC’s “This Week” program. “I don’t see the dramatic progress they are citing in my border, and that’s why I acted.”

On Aug. 12, Mr. Richardson announced an emergency, and last week, fellow Democratic Gov. Janet Napolitano of Arizona followed suit. The declarations will allow more state money to be spent on policing along the border.

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The two governors’ moves have kick-started a political debate about whether Democrats have found a way to run to the right of Republicans on immigration security. It also highlighted the role of border state officials in pushing federal lawmakers to act on an issue that seems to be galvanizing voters more than it is gaining attention in Congress.

“It’s a very charged political issue. But that doesn’t mean you leave states like Arizona and New Mexico and California and Texas defenseless,” Mr. Richardson said on “Fox News Sunday.”

A Department of Homeland Security spokesman could not be reached yesterday, but during the past week, department officials and spokesmen said increased problems along New Mexico’s 180-mile border with Mexico were a result of better enforcement in Arizona.

By declaring a state of emergency, Miss Napolitano made $1.5 million available to local police in Arizona, while Mr. Richardson promised $1.75 million for local police in the four New Mexico counties and to set up a field office for the state’s Office of Homeland Security.

Mr. Richardson called on Mexico to bulldoze Las Chepas, a border town in Mexico that he said was abandoned and now serves as a staging area for drug- and immigrant-smugglers.

He also said Congress must enact an immigration policy that would create a path to citizenship for illegal aliens, although he said he does not consider that amnesty because they would have to live here legally for some time and pay a fine in order to get citizenship.

Immigration is shaping up to be a big issue in the 2008 presidential primaries, with Mr. Richardson considered a potential Democratic candidate. On the Republican side, two likely candidates — Sen. George Allen of Virginia and Sen. Chuck Hagel of Nebraska — took opposing sides in the debate over a guest-worker program.

Mr. Hagel said he will soon introduce a bill that would offer illegal aliens a path to citizenship, arguing that there is no other way to make the aliens come forward and identify themselves.

Mr. Allen, meanwhile, endorsed the bill from Republican Sens. John Cornyn of Texas and Jon Kyl of Arizona, which would allow illegal aliens to live and work legally for up to five years before forcing them to return home, where they could apply for a guest-worker program or join the wait for a green card.

Polls show the vast majority of voters oppose most plans that appear to reward illegal aliens, which will affect the Democratic candidates as they try to win votes on the issue.

Both Miss Napolitano and Mr. Richardson are up for re-election next year in states where illegal immigration has become a dominant issue. And both have taken stands in the past that put them at odds with immigration-control groups.

In Arizona, Miss Napolitano and most of the state’s other top elected officials, including its bipartisan congressional delegation, opposed a state initiative to deny illegal aliens some state services and make voters show identification at the polls. Despite the opposition, the initiative won with 57 percent of the vote.

Mr. Richardson yesterday had to defend his approval of a bill allowing illegal aliens to obtain driver’s licenses in New Mexico.

“Otherwise, they drive uninsured,” he said. “It becomes a safety issue. We want to know where these illegal aliens are and what they want, and we want to know what they’re doing.”

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