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Under proposal from N.M. senators, Mexican nationals could enter deeper into state

New Mexico’s two U.S. senators want to expand the zone within New Mexico in which Mexican nationals who hold Border Crossing Cards, or “laser cards,” can travel inside. The current limit is 25 miles from the border, and Democratic Senators Jeff Bingaman and Tom Udall want to expand that to 75 miles so that urban areas not immediately on the border can take advantage of Mexican consumers.

“Currently, Border Crossing Card holders can travel to cities like El Paso, but not nearby Las Cruces, Deming or Lordsburg,” said Udall in a statement. “This legislation makes a simple modification to boost commerce in important New Mexico communities with respect to our border security.”

Border Crossing Cards are biometric cards which Mexican nationals can receive after passing a security and background check. They allow travel within the border zone for up to 30 days, although prior to August 2004 it was only 72 hours. Millions of the cards have been issued since the program first began in the late 1980s.

The Pew Hispanic Center (PDF) estimated in 2006 that the card was, at the time, a common method of entry for unauthorized immigrants, who would overstay the 30 day limit or work a job when the card does not authorize them to do so. However, many New Mexican border residents depend on temporary legal traffic from Mexico for their business.

The increase could be done either through an act of Congress or by a Department of Homeland Security rule change. In 1999, Arizona was allowed to increase the zone to 75 miles in order to benefit Tucson. Bingaman and Udall want the same change for New Mexico.

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