Senate candidate threatens to put up fence to block... the Border Patrol?

When I first saw the headline for this story it sounded too bizarre to be true. In New Mexico, a state land manager (and Senate candidate) is putting up signs along a one mile stretch of the Mexican border warning Border Patrol agents to stay off the property. Initial reaction: Whisky Tango Foxtrot?

My initial guess was that it was some #RESIST movement Democrat trying to grab some headlines (and we’re not entirely ruling out at least part of that theory yet) but reading more deeply into the story there seems to be more to it than that. The Washington Times has the details.

A U.S. Senate candidate who serves as New Mexico’s top land manager on Tuesday posted signs along the U.S.-Mexico border aimed at blocking border patrol operations on a one-mile stretch of state trust land over concerns that the federal government is not compensating the state for using the land.

Land Commissioner Aubrey Dunn told The Associated Press that if his office can’t reach an agreement over an easement with the federal government, he will install a fence to block access to the property.

Dunn, elected in 2014 as a Republican, announced earlier this year he was running for the U.S. Senate after becoming a Libertarian. He previously considered running for governor and the U.S. House.

So Aubrey Dunn isn’t a Democrat. He used to be a Republican but is now running as a Libertarian. And fighting the Border Patrol doesn’t seem to be an act of defiance against immigration enforcement, at least according to his published statements on the subject. This is a fight over sovereignty.

If we’re to take Dunn at his word, a survey conducted by the State Land Office found that this particular one mile stretch of land along the border was ceded to the territory of New Mexico in 1898. As such, it didn’t fall under Teddy Roosevelt’s Proclamation 758 in 1907 which established a buffer zone along the border where immigration enforcement officials could work. Under this theory, since the land is still fully under state control, Dunn contends that the federal government never really had the authority to build the section of border wall there and should be paying easement and right of way fees before conducting any operations in the area or beginning new construction or modernization efforts on the wall. We’re talking about an estimated $30,000 in fees here.

Okay. Let’s just say that the survey is valid and would hold up in court. Does anyone in New Mexico think that the feds are going to balk at paying $30K to avoid a state vs federal land dispute? More to the point, wouldn’t you just put in the request for the fees and allow the Border Patrol to continue doing their work until the matter is resolved? It doesn’t seem to me that shutting down immigration enforcement over a $30K easement is really a smart move, particularly when you’re running for the Senate in a state where border control is a pretty big issue.

Of course, now that brings us back to the idea of whether or not this is just a stunt to draw attention to a long-shot, third party Senate bid. But I don’t want to be too cynical on a Wednesday morning, so I’ll give Dunn the benefit of the doubt for now.

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David Strom 8:31 AM on October 02, 2022