Cops, residents need boot heel cell access

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By Harold Morgan

There ought to be a law, we sometimes say to ourselves when frustrated about something.

Once in a while, we even pass a law. Maybe not quite the appropriate law, but hey.

That’s what the Arizona Legislature did recently. The law, Senate Bill 1070, gives Arizona’s cops new tools for dealing with illegal immigration. Even before Gov. Jan Brewer signed SB 1070, all sorts of things hit the fan. To its credit, Arizona quickly passed House Bill 2162, which removes “some of the most racist elements” of SB 1070, says Jose Garcia of Las Cruces, a close observer of the issue. (See http://lapoliticanewmexico.blogspot.com.)

Handwringing about “diversity” and “profiling” came from liberals, including Lt. Gov. Diane Denish, the Democrats’ presumed candidate for governor.

The handwringing overlooks one detail: There’s a war on. This war is in Mexico, across the street from New Mexico. Arizona’s new bill, ultimately, is about Mexican President Felipe Calderón’s war against the drug cartels and about our government’s failure (Barack Obama now, previously George W. Bush) to deal with the immigration situation across our border with Mexico.

Fear and death stalk our border with Mexico. New Mexicans have been kidnapped and killed. A woman running a store in Mesilla, reports insisting that her father not go to Ciudad Juarez to buy inexpensive medicines. He went anyway, and returned, she said, with relief.

The murder of Cochise County, Ariz., rancher Robert Krentz in late March has proved a catalyst for renewed attention to border matters.

The Arizona law may have gotten President Obama’s attention. That’s both good and long overdue.

At the state level, our options are limited. One significant problem along the border—lack of cell phone coverage—can be addressed. You may wonder, is this a big deal? Both along the border and statewide, connectivity matters.

Law enforcement officials in Hidalgo County tell me they lose cell coverage about 30 miles from the border with Mexico. That means the boot heel area, the southwest corner of the state, has no cell coverage. The boot heel is roughly 50 miles wide and 30 miles north to south, about 1,500 square miles total. Local law enforcement does have other means of communication, all limited, uncertain and expensive.

The lack of cell coverage is both a national security issue and a danger to area residents, law enforcement and emergency services personnel. The problem needs fixing. It requires some energy and some money, money that will be well spent even in this time of limited state revenue.

The boot heel area is somewhat flat, though three mountain ranges run north to south and reach 8,000 feet. In flat country, cell towers might reach a 12-mile diameter. Let’s assume towers cover 10 miles. That means 15 towers for the area. Towers in rural areas, I’m told, cost about $500,000. The required towers would cost around $7.5 million.  

All in all and allowing for unknowns, including getting power to the cell towers, we should be able to get cell phone access to the boot heel for less than the $22.3 million price of Gov. Bill Richardson’s ultimate frivolity, the long proposed (but now semi-dead) equestrian center.

With better communication, better information, boot heel residents will have better lives and the good guys, the cops, will have a better chance of catching the bad guys.

Information wins. Across New Mexico, the same idea applies. With more information, we will do better. But we’re behind.

My columnist colleague Sherry Robinson wrote recently about New Mexico’s rotten connectivity performance. She talked about high-speed Internet and cable modem access and download speeds. Getting cell phone access along the Mexican border will be part of our needed connectivity infrastructure.

Let’s do it, next governor.