LAS CRUCES, N.M – The dusty Mexican community of Las Chepas (search) is home to only about 35 full-time residents, but U.S. border patrol agents say a caravan of old school buses and vans hauls people into the town every day. Las Chepas, authorities say, is a staging ground for would-be immigrants and drug and human smugglers.
On Friday, the governors of New Mexico and its southern neighbor, the Mexican state of Chihuahua (search), agreed to bulldoze or board up the lawless town's abandoned buildings to stem the illegal activity there.
Gov. Bill Richardson (search) and Chihuahua Gov. Jose Reyes Baeza also said they hoped to establish a police presence in Las Chepas.
Reyes Baeza said he would instruct law officers on his side of the border to fine unlicensed bus operators who ferry would-be immigrants 15 miles on a dusty washboard road along the border to Las Chepas.
Friday's agreement was a partial victory for Richardson, who had asked Reyes Baeza to raze the town.
Both governors said they would allocate state funds and ask their federal governments for more money to help. For his part, Richardson said construction on a $60,000 fence in nearby Columbus, N.M., an official port of entry, has begun.
Richardson also has pledged to fund 15 additional sheriff's deputies for Luna and Hidalgo counties, which sit on the border. And the governor sent six state police officers to work along the border.
Richardson and Reyes Baeza also pledged renewed cooperation in law enforcement efforts, including sharing intelligence.
Friday was the governors' first meeting since Richardson, citing growing violence, declared a state of emergency in New Mexico's four border counties earlier this month.
Arizona Gov. Janet Napolitano (search) declared a similar emergency in her state.
Border Patrol agent Rick Moody said agents monitor Las Chepas with a tower-mounted camera and watch as a daily caravan brings people into town. When the migrants head north across the border, they often are jumped by "border bandits," he said.
"They tell them to just keep walking north and don't look back," Moody said. "We've tried to apprehend some of these bandits."
But there are just too many places to hide and too few roads in the area, he added.
For Leopaldo Castillo Rodriguez, 66, Las Chepas is more than a trouble spot a stone's throw from the border. He and his wife have lived there for 22 years and don't ever plan to leave.
As he surveyed his front yard this week, complete with a lush and blooming rose bush, he said he didn't understand why Richardson would want to demolish the town.
"It would be the same, if it wasn't here," Castillo said of the situation.