WASHINGTON, DC -- President Donald Trump and U.S. Attorney General William Barr announced Wednesday that federal agents will surge into several more states, including New Mexico, to help combat rising crime, expanding the administration’s intervention in local enforcement as Trump runs for reelection under a “law-and-order” mantle.
Trump and Barr were joined at the White House announcement by the U.S. attorney for New Mexico and the sheriff of the state’s most populous county that includes Albuquerque.
But New Mexico's U.S. Sen. Martin Heinrich cautioned Trump about sending federal agents to the state, and he called on Bernalillo County Sheriff Manny Gonzales, who was at the White House, to resign.
“Instead of collaborating with the Albuquerque Police Department, the Sheriff is inviting the President’s storm-troopers into Albuquerque,” the Democratic senator said in a statement.
New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham and state Attorney General Hector Balderas threatened to sue the Trump Administration if federal agents "overstep their authority in any manner whatsoever."
"If the Trump administration wishes to antagonize New Mexicans and Americans with authoritarian, unnecessary and unaccountable military-style 'crackdowns,' they have no business whatsoever in New Mexico," the governor said.
Several other New Mexico lawmakers also came out against the plan, including U.S. Rep. Deb Haaland and Albuquerque Mayor Tim Keller.
Usually, the U.S. Justice Department sends agents under its own umbrella, like agents from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives or the Drug Enforcement Agency. But this surge effort will include Department of Homeland Security Investigations officers, who generally conduct drug trafficking and child exploitation investigations.
DHS officers have already been dispatched to Portland, Oregon, and other localities to protect federal property and monuments as Trump has lambasted efforts by protesters to knock down Confederate statutes. Trump has linked the growing violence in the streets with protests over racial injustice, though criminal justice experts say the spike defies easy explanation, pointing to the unprecedented moment the country is living through — with a pandemic that has killed more than 140,000 Americans, historic unemployment, stay-at-home orders, a mass reckoning over race and police brutality, intense stress and even the weather.
Local authorities have also complained the surges in federal agents have only exacerbated tensions on the streets.
The decision to dispatch federal agents to American cities is playing out at a hyper-politicized moment when Trump is trying to show he is a “law-and-order” president and painting Democratic-led cities as out of control. With less than four months to go before Election Day, Trump has been serving up dire warnings that the violence would worsen if his Democratic rival Joe Biden is elected in November, as he tries to win over voters who could be swayed by that message.
But civil unrest in Portland only escalated after federal agents there were accused of whisking people away in unmarked cars without probable case.
The spike in crime has hit hard in some cities with resources already stretched thin from the pandemic. But the move to send in federal forces was initially rejected by leaders in Chicago and New York, two cities with a surge in violence.
Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot later said she and other local officials had spoken with federal authorities and come to an understanding.
“I’ve been very clear that we welcome actual partnership,” the Democratic mayor said after speaking with federal officials. “But we do not welcome dictatorship. We do not welcome authoritarianism, and we do not welcome unconstitutional arrest and detainment of our residents. That is something I will not tolerate.”