State Land Commissioner Aubrey Dunn wrote a letter Feb. 1 to President Donald Trump proposing to swap state land near the U.S.-Mexico border for federal land in anticipation of Trump’s promised construction of a wall on the border.
“I am hoping to begin a discussion to take State Trust Lands out of the political process and focus on managing these lands for the Trust beneficiaries,” Dunn wrote. “I do not wish to be part of political fodder for any side of this issue.”
Dunn’s office said that if the Trump administration refuses the swap offer, the federal government would have to pay New Mexico $3 million for an easement to construct the wall along state land.
Dunn wants to exchange state surface and mineral estate rights within three miles or less of the border with the U.S. Bureau of Land Management “for more desirable land assets in Chaves, Lincoln and Otero counties,” his letter to Trump says.
Last month, Trump signed an executive order demanding the immediate construction of a wall across nearly 2,000 miles of the border, a central promise of his campaign. New Mexico’s border with Mexico is about 160 miles long, Dunn says in the letter.
Supporters of the wall say it’s needed to secure the nation’s borders; opponents say it could start a diplomatic war with one of the United States’ biggest trading partners.
Trump has insisted that Mexico would pay for the wall, which by some estimates could cost anywhere between $15 billion to $40 billion. But Mexico’s government has said it will not do so. Trump’s insistence for the payment resulted in Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto canceling a scheduled visit to the White House last month.
Dunn said his proposal shouldn’t be seen as taking a side in the debate.
“Commissioner Dunn … is interested in what’s best for New Mexico’s school children and he believes what’s best is getting our State Trust Lands off the border,” according to an email from Kristin Haase, assistant commissioner for special projects.
Haase said that 90 percent of the surface lands are being leased for grazing. None of the lands are being leased for mineral extraction.
The Taos News is a sister-paper of The Santa Fe New Mexican. Contact Uriel Garcia at 505-986-3062 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @ujohnnyg.