New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson and Arizona Governor Janet Napolitano have both declared a state of emergency because of increasing violence on the U.S.-Mexico border of their states.
The move frees up state funding to increase security along the border and gives each governor the power to call in the National Guard.
On Wednesday, Richardson joined MSNBC's Norah O'Donnell on Hardball to discuss why he has taken this step to combat the problems in his state. Following her conversation with Richardson, O'Donnell spoke with Mitch Geiger, the director of operations for the Minutemen Civil Defense Corps in Arizona, to get his perspective on the actions taken by Richardson and Napolitano.
To read an excerpt of their conversation, continue to the text below. To watch the video, click on the "Launch" button to the right.
NORAH O'DONNELL, MSNBC: Governor Richardson joins me now. Governor, welcome. ... How severe is the problem of illegal immigration?
NEW MEXICO GOVERNOR BILL RICHARDSON: It is very serious. It is an issue politicians don't want to touch. The Congress is talking about a lot of, in my judgment, irrelevant matters, compared to what people want them to deal with, which is health care, jobs and certainly, immigration. In my situation, I declared a state of emergency out of desperation. We weren't getting any federal assistance. The Congress is refusing to deal with immigration. And I had criminal activity relating to illegal immigration, drugs coming in, murders, kidnappings, mutilation of cattle. And we don't have any people, any law enforcement to take care of this.
And so the additional funds that I've requested will deal with some of the law enforcement needs to patrol our very small 180-mile border with Mexico.
O'DONNELL: One, you're talking about spending an additional $1.7 million on security improvements. Two, you've also mentioned the possibility of bulldozing a small town in Mexico, a border town that you say is holding a lot of these people who are involved in the alien smuggling, the drug smuggling. Are you going to be able to bulldoze a town in Mexico, and what has been the response of the Mexican government?
RICHARDSON: Well, the Mexican government, since my statement, besides showing irritation, they are actively trying to find ways to work with the State of New Mexico and resolve some of our problems. They're actively considering this. What this is, Norah, it's a small abandoned town that you can virtually see from the New Mexico border. And this is a town that everybody agrees, law enforcement, Border Patrol, residents on both sides, is a staging area of illegal drugs and illegal aliens.
What they do is they park themselves in these abandoned houses, wait until it is dark, move in one maneuver and law enforcement goes towards them and then they come in when -- because of the shortage of law enforcement on the New Mexico side, they either bring an equal amount of drugs as illegal aliens.
They also mutilate and kill some of the cattle. So what you have is some very shady operators. When you have illegal activity, whether it is exportation of illegal aliens, many times those sordid characters that organized this also get into drugs, they get into theft. They get into destruction of property.
O'DONNELL: You say the federal government is not doing enough so you're taking the matter into your own hands, doing something by declaring a state of emergency. What about the Minutemen who have been trying to help in states like New Mexico and Arizona? Why don't you want their help?
RICHARDSON: I want trained law enforcement people to do the work. Many of the Minutemen are very well-intentioned. They're patriots. But I worry that because they're not trained, because they don't have the skills and equipment to deal with illegal aliens and illegal drugs, as law enforcement does, as Border Patrol, that we're going to have some unfortunate incidents.
So this is why I took this action, to get my local sheriffs, my local law enforcement in New Mexico to be able to hire trained personnel that know how the deal with illegal aliens and illegal drugs and kidnappings and mutilation of animals. That's why I did it, Norah.
But the main message here is the federal government, the Congress, they're not touching this issue because it is too hot. And what you have is four states, four big states on the border saying -- two of the four saying, hey, we're taking matters into our own hands because you're not helping us.
O'DONNELL: And we had trouble finding anybody today who disagrees with the action that you are taking to stop this illegal immigration. But let me ask you, because the chairman of the Republican Party in New Mexico said that your action reeks of politics. He said that you're trying to perhaps get ready for the Democratic race in 2008, and that you may be trying to position yourself in the center. Is there politics involved in this move? Are you trying to run to the right of Republicans?
RICHARDSON: No, no. In fact, we are a state that is very immigrant-friendly. We have scholarships for undocumented workers, driver's licenses, because we see it as a safety issue. I want to track where the undocumented workers are. I want them to fit into society. I want them driving with insurance and they have to have insurance instead of without insurance.
So I'm trying to be practical. But everybody agrees on the need for border security. It involves our national security, protecting us against terrorism, drugs, and illegal traffic; an illegal act, an illegal entrance into the United States in these buses where these men and women trying to find a better life are exploited is not right. And this is why I took these actions. It's not politics.
RICHARDSON: All right. Governor Bill Richardson of New Mexico who has been joined now by the Democratic governor of Arizona, Janet Napolitano, who has taken similar action to close America's borders.
Thank you very much, Governor.
RICHARDSON: Thank you, Norah.
O'DONNELL: And joining us now is Mitch Geiger, the director of operations for the Minutemen Civil Defense Corps in Arizona.
Welcome, Mitch. What do you make of Governor Richardson's decision to declare this state of emergency in New Mexico?
MITCH GEIGER, MINUTEMEN CIVIL DEFENSE CORPS: Well, my first, off the top of my head kind of impression is, it is about time. It has been a long time coming for anyone to take some serious notice of the issue of the lack of security on our borders.
O'DONNELL: You did enough. They're talking about spending $1.7 million in New Mexico, in Arizona. The Democratic governor there, Janet Napolitano, has pledged $1.5 million. Is that going to be enough to stop the millions of illegal immigrants coming through the borders?
GEIGER: Well, you know, I don't have a lot of experience in budgeting, but off the top of my head, I'm going to have to say, no, that's probably not enough. But it is a good first step. And it certainly sets the proper tone for dealing with this issue.
O'DONNELL: The federal government has-- Governor Richardson said the federal government has not done enough, that's why the state is stepping in. But Governor Richardson said he doesn't want your help, the Minutemen's help. Why is that?
GEIGER: Well, it's hard to speak for Governor Richardson, but I would assume it is probably because the Minutemen have been a misunderstood group, I guess.
O'DONNELL: Well, explain it. What are you trying to do in the Southwest?
GEIGER: Well, the Minutemen have a very simple mission. Our mission is to observe criminal activity, report that criminal activity to law enforcement, and direct law enforcement to that criminal activity. In a nutshell, we're here to support law enforcement because they're understaffed and underfunded.
So for someone to say that they don't want our help or don't want us there is kind of like saying, well, we don't want a Coast Guard auxiliary, or we don't want...
O'DONNELL: But Governor Richardson just said on this program that he wants trained officers. And President Bush has said in the past that he is worried about vigilantes on the border. Are you vigilantes and do you take offense at Governor Richardson's statements that you're not trained to do the job of stopping illegal immigrants?
GEIGER: No to both questions. We're certainly not vigilantes, at least by the modern definition. We're vigilant in what we're doing, absolutely. But I don't take offense to him not wanting us there. I would rather have trained law enforcement professionals on the border and stay home and barbecue with my family on the weekends. But we all have to do what we can do to stop this problem before we're looking at another 9/11.
O'DONNELL: And why have you taken the matter into your own hands? How big is the problem and how porous are our borders?
GEIGER: Well, you know, I don't get a lot into the politics of things and follow statistics. I can only speak from experience and my time spent on the border. And since April, I've probably spent a total of three months there. The problem is massive. Hundreds of people come through any given area daily. And law enforcement, especially Border Patrol, is just simply not equipped to deal with the mass populous that's coming across the border.
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