Doña Ana County encompasses 3,804 square miles in southern New Mexico directly north of El Paso, Texas, and the Mexican state of Chihuahua. It is a place of rugged natural beauty and rich history that is home to more than 210,000 people of diverse heritage. Most of the population lives in small towns, unincorporated villages, and various rural settings. Dirt roads, substandard housing, inadequate utilities, susceptibility to flooding, and gaps in public service are problems throughout the unincorporated areas. These challenges are compounded by the fact that a quarter of our families live on incomes below the poverty line. Yet it is important to note that Doña Ana County is considered one of the safer places to live in the United States.
 
We need help from the federal government to address economic and infrastructure issues in our rural communities. With this set of needs as a backdrop, I have to ask why Congress is considering a measure that would provide local entities with excess military equipment like “Predator B drones,” night-vision goggles, and Humvees?
 
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This measure—also known as the Poe amendment after Representative Ted PoeLloyd (Ted) Theodore PoeSheila Jackson Lee tops colleagues in House floor speaking days over past decade Senate Dem to reintroduce bill with new name after 'My Little Pony' confusion Texas New Members 2019 MORE (R-TX)—is   part of the House version of the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), legislation that is enacted into law every year. As it stands, the provision would provide state, federal and local law enforcement entities with expedited and preferential treatment in securing surplus weapons of war. This kind of equipment is irrelevant to the kinds of challenges faced by underserved communities in our region.
 
Looked at narrowly in terms of crime statistics, local law enforcement in Doña Ana County is confronted primarily with cases involving domestic abuse and assault, burglary and other property crimes. And their numbers are relatively low when compared with many other parts of the country. From this perspective, surplus military equipment is of no value in our efforts to improve public safety – whereas workforce training, community policing, and jail diversion programs are essential.
 
By flooding border areas with military equipment that is irrelevant to local policing issues, strongly suggests that the real purpose of this program is to involve local agencies in border security and immigration enforcement. This is a bad idea in part because it has been shown to be ineffective in improving border security. In fact, a 2014 Department of Homeland Security report by its Office of Inspector General found that their drone program had been unsuccessful and should not be expanded. More significantly, immigration and border security are a fundamental responsibility of the federal government and should not—as a matter of law and principle—involve local law enforcement.
 
Giving military weapons to local officials can create the potential for police officers and sheriff deputies to view their communities through the lens of warfare rather than public service. This kind of approach inevitably creates a wedge between law enforcement and the residents.
 
All along the border – defined by the government as 100 miles from any external boundary of the U.S.– immigration officials exercise broad powers over millions of people. Instances have occurred in which ignorance or misunderstanding of their legal authority has resulted in the violation of constitutional rights. Senator Dianne FeinsteinDianne Emiel FeinsteinBottom line Trump vetoes bipartisan driftnet fishing bill Dumping Abraham Lincoln? A word of advice to the 'cancel culture' MORE of California spoke for millions of border residents in 2013 when she advocated restricting drone surveillance to within 3 miles of a land boundary. We are not second-class communities and have the same concerns about excessive government intrusion as people living everywhere else in the United States.
 
Doña Ana County values both public safety and the rights of our residents. That is why our Board of Commissioners has approved resolutions prohibiting county employees from asking about the immigration status of our residents unless required by state or federal statute. We also passed a resolution calling for immigration enforcement and border security to be handled exclusively by federal law enforcement.
 
The people of Doña Ana County want what all Americans want: to lead safe, prosperous, and happy lives. That is why we should concentrate government resources on issues that are actually present and on programs that strengthen communities rather than divide them. In particular, law enforcement entities should focus on serving and protecting our communities through collaborative programs that build trust, address real social issues, and expand economic opportunity. That is what community building is all about.
 
Congress should not pass an NDAA that perpetuates militarization of border counties under the pretense of increasing public safety. The equipment being offered is irrelevant to the law enforcement issues we face and would degrade relations with already marginalized communities.

Garrett is a County Commissioner of Doña Ana County, New Mexico.