By Tracy Dingmann
An illegal immigrant superhighway?
That’s what a headline on a Dec. 5 Journal news story said the federal government would create if it approves a plan to designate 259,000 acres of Dona Ana land as wilderness and an additional 100,000 acres as a national conservation area.
The story, headlined “Inviting Trouble? Critics say a proposal to designate land as wilderness would turn area to an ‘illegal immigrant superhighway,’” appeared on the cover of the “New Mexico” section of last Sunday’s paper.
The story carried that alarming headline, even though the bulk of the article contained a wealth of information and statistics that refuted that claim.
So who coined the phrase “illegal immigrant superhighway?”
None other than Marita Noon, executive director of the oil and gas industry trade group Citizens Alliance for Responsible Energy and a frequent Journal guest columnist.
Oddly, the Journal story itself did not quote Noon directly, but instead referred to comments she had made in a guest opinion piece that ran in September in the Las Cruces Sun-News.
Four Things to Consider
There are a number of reasons that Noon’s appearance in this Journal story is so strange.
First, Noon is not an “expert” on immigration or border security – nor, as she readily admits, is she an expert in energy, the topic about which she writes in her frequent Journal guest opinion pieces. So what is Noon doing being quoted in this story about immigration and the border?
Second, Journal readers need to know that Noon has been caught distorting the truth in other pieces she’s written that have been published in the Journal – as well as in the Farmington Daily Times and on NMPolitics.net. (both of whom removed her guest columns from their site because of factual inaccuracies).
Third, Noon’s comment was placed very high in the story…an odd news judgment for a “quote” from a guest column that ran months ago in another newspaper. As a rule, it is rare for the Journal to go out of its way to even mention the name of a competing paper – especially regarding an item that is not a hard news exclusive or something that’s otherwise impossible to ignore.
It looks to me like the Journal went out of their way to use a flashy, fact-free phrase that Noon (who lives in Albuquerque) used in the Las Cruces paper because someone at the Journal really liked it and thought it would make a great headline for this story.
And fourth, let’s talk about the actual story. It is impossible to miss the fact that much of it refutes the headline’s overheated claim.
If you read the whole thing, you’ll find out that people who are actually in the position to know what’s happening with immigration – i.e, the Border Patrol – say they only apprehended 13 people in the area last year.
You’ll also learn that the actual border with Mexico – which does not bump up against the proposed wilderness – is heavily fenced and fortified to thwart those seeking to cross by foot or by vehicle.
And you’ll learn that overall, the number of illegal immigrants apprehended on New Mexico’s border has declined nearly 90 percent since 2005.
But here’s perhaps the most telling quote in the whole thing.
El Paso real estate developer Robert Veliz, who owns 240 acres east of the proposed Potrillos wilderness, supports the bill.
In the two years since he acquired his land, Veliz said he has never seen an illegal immigrant moving through the area during monthly trips to the mountains.
Veliz said drug smugglers are more likely to detour once they hit the east-west highway N.M. 9, just south of the Potrillos, than continue north through the rugged mountains.
“Why the hell would they want to go through the Potrillos and then to Las Cruces? It makes no sense,” Veliz said.
No sense, indeed.