COLUMBUS, N.M. (Border Report) — A small cluster of mobile homes is causing a big stir in this small New Mexico town 3 miles from the Mexican border.
That’s because the trailers being set up at the corner of Main and J. Carreon Avenue are meant to house dozens of contractors working on a 72-mile section of the U.S.-Mexico border wall. The 30-foot steel bollard structure that started just west of the Santa Teresa, New Mexico Port of Entry late last year is a mere 25 miles east of Columbus.
Twenty-four environmental, human rights, and pro-immigrant organizations sent a letter to Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham and the New Mexico congressional delegation on Friday urging them to keep the contractors out of the town.
“Border communities in southern New Mexico face a grave threat from the influx of hundreds of workers setting up camps in small towns to begin construction on new sections of President Trump’s border wall,” the letter signed by the groups say.
Columbus has a population of just over 1,600, according to City-Data.
The organizations allege that locals have seen dozens of out-of-state contractors “congregating in public spaces […] in large numbers,” which they say puts the residents’ health at risk. New Mexico communities are under a statewide stay-at-home order due to the coronavirus. The state as of Monday had recorded 686 COVID-19 cases.
“This is a highly irresponsible and non-essential activity that puts New Mexicans in grave danger and blatantly disregards the state’s orders,” the letter said. “We respectfully ask that you (Lujan Grisham) do everything within your power to halt the influx of out-of-state workers to into our border communities to protect the safety and health” of those communities.
Border Report tried on Monday tried to contact Columbus Mayor Esequiel Salas but emails were rejected at the address a Village of Columbus secretary provided. The town’s offices were closed on Monday afternoon when Border Report came a-knocking.
But a southern New Mexico newspaper quoted Salas as saying he has asked Galveston, Texas-based border wall contractor SLS to hold off on moving its workers into the trailers until April 16 to minimize the risk of COVID-19 contagion. And he stressed that not all of the workers are from outside the state; some are locals who’d otherwise have to work elsewhere and risk bringing back the coronavirus when they return home.
Some locals interviewed by Border Report said they haven’t seen large groups of border wall workers congregating in their town. Some said they didn’t mind the ongoing work on the wall, but others had mixed feelings.
“I think economically, for a small city like this, it might help a little bit. It’s OK,” said a resident who only identified himself as a former federal government employee. “Every border town like this would take the money, of course. We need it.”
“I know (the wall) is coming this way, but I don’t think it’s right,” said Frank C., who asked that his last name not be used. “I don’t know if it’s a health risk, but it’s too expensive.”
Another man interviewed outside the Village offices said he didn’t care one way or the other about the trailers but that he supported the border wall.
In an earlier interview, El Paso Sector Border Patrol officials who have jurisdiction over southern New Mexico said the 30-foot structure would be a useful tool for securing the border in an area traditionally used by people and drug smugglers looking for access to Interstate 10 a few miles north of Columbus and Deming, New Mexico.