Sunland Park is a working-class New Mexico city of 17,000 at the foot of Mount Cristo Rey, known for its casino and racetrack, but its proximity to the Mexican border has turned it into ground zero for tens of thousands of migrants crossing illegally into the US in the last few years.
As elderly residents took to the central plaza — the Elena Memorial Park — for predawn power walking and stretching on Friday, Border Patrol agents in white and green pick up trucks and SUVs intercepted dozens of migrants from Ecuador and Central America who slipped through gaps in a nearby border wall.
In some cases, migrants scaled the 30-foot barrier, with one man suffering a broken ankle early Friday morning, a Border Patrol agent told The Post. Another man had made his 12th border crossing from Mexico.
“I’ve never seen this situation so bad,” said Teresa Muñoz, 66, who has lived in the community for more than ten years. “We always saw people crossing, but it’s never been like this.”
The situation has grown worse since Biden took office, residents told The Post. Since January, there have been exponentially more migrants being pursued by Border Patrol vehicles with lights flashing and helicopters hovering overhead. The hour of darkness just before daybreak and before the beginning of the relentless 100 degree heat is a popular time to cross the expanses of desert scrub in the region, residents said.
In fiscal year 2021, 155,882 migrants have been apprehended near the community, which lies on the border of Mexico and Texas surrounded by towering mountains and desert. In FY 2020, there were 54,396 migrants crossing in the area, according to statistics collected by Border Patrol’s El Paso sector, which encompasses 125,000 square miles.
“Do I mind Border Patrol being around all the time?” said Omar Ikhlail, a 32-year-old used car salesman who has lived in Sunland Park his whole life. “I feel safe with the helicopters buzzing above my head. Finally, our tax dollars are being put to good use.”
Jesus Pinella, 75, agreed. He has lived in the small border community for the last three decades. Pinnella said he came from Mexico in 1965 to work harvesting cotton. He also worked in California, he said. Six months ago, he finally became a US citizen.
And while he said he feels sorry for the migrants who travel thousands of miles under difficult conditions to cross illegally into the US, he has little sympathy for them breaking the law. “They have no respect for the law and act live savages,” he said.
He is also disappointed with President Biden, who rolled back strict immigration policies instituted by his predecessor shortly after taking office this year, including a “remain in Mexico” mandate which resulted in thousands of non-Mexican migrants waiting in Mexico for immigration hearings in the US.
Thousands of migrants poured across the border in the early days of the Biden administration, spurred by promises made by smugglers that they would be more welcome under the new regime, immigration experts said.
In March, Biden put Vice President Kamala Harris in charge of the border crisis, and delivered the belated message: “Don’t come over.”
For Pinella and other residents, the Biden policy has done little to stem the crisis. “He’s too old,” Pinella said. “It’s too much for him. Only a younger president with more energy could deal with this situation.”
Ikhlail, who walked his bulldog Kaiser as dawn broke over the surrounding mountains, said he appreciates the attention paid to the region by former President Trump, who invested in the nearby border fence.
“Trump did a really good job,” he said. “Sure, he was really ballsy and really rash, but that’s what this country needed. What we have now is a disaster.”