Category: Criminal Justice

Federal Immigration Policy Affecting Local Communities

Felipe Rodriguez, Field Coordinator of the NM Dream Team and undergraduate senior student studying psychology at UNM, instructs dream team members in organizing strategies under the Trump administration. Rodriguez says that having a sanctuary campus at UNM is something necessary given the political climate. Photo by John Acosta / NM News Port

“It’s been becoming extremely tough to focus on school,” Rodriguez said. “There are days where I will be in class and just start thinking, what if a fellow student reports me to immigration, and they show up at my house?”

New Mexico does not have specific policies preventing federal agencies collaborating with state agencies on immigration enforcement. In response, State Sen. Linda Lopez (D-Albuquerque) introduced Senate Bill 270. Lopez said this bill would turn New Mexico into a sanctuary that offers several provisions including deportation protection to all of its residents.

“Sanctuary means no person shall be denied benefits, opportunities or services offered by the state on the basis of immigration status,” Lopez said.

Sen. Lopez also says that employers shall not request any information regarding citizenship or immigration status.

Rachel Lazar, El Centro De Igualdad y Derechos Executive Director, speaks to the undocumented immigrant community about Pres. Trump’s new immigration policies and how it will effect Albuquerque at a membership meeting on Wednesday, Feb 15. A huge crowd of people packed El Centro De Igualdad y Derechos office. Photo by John Acosta / NM News Port

The 2017  legislative session is over now. SB 270 made it to the senate floor but did not receive a vote. On Friday, March 10, NM Gov. Susana Martinez ordered the state corrections department to work with the federal government on immigration enforcement.

The New Mexico Dream Team is a statewide network of undocumented students from different universities and high schools in New Mexico working together and advocating for immigrant rights.

New Mexico holds 85,000 undocumented immigrants in the state’s workforce. That number aligns them in the top 10 states that hold the highest share of undocumented immigrants in their workforce, according to a 2014 report by the Pew Research Center.

Albuquerque Community Reacts To President Trump’s Immigration Orders.

Under President Barack Obama’s administration, deportation policies focused on a priority system – with felons and gang members on top of the deportation list. President Trump’s executive order removes Barack Obama’s previous priority system, and now anyone who is in the United States illegally is at risk of deportation, according to The Department of Homeland Security.

As a Field Coordinator for the New Mexico Dream Team, Rodriguez works closely with the undocumented immigrant community. He says that he has heard several cases where Immigration Customs and Enforcement (ICE) agents force themselves into people’s homes.

“I’ve heard of at least six cases where ICE has come into people’s houses,” Rodriguez said. “There was even a particular case where ICE officials came into a restaurant and took someone away.”

None of these cases Rodriguez mentioned have been confirmed by ICE, or any other source.

City Council members wait to commence the meeting slated for Wednesday, Feb 15. Albuquerque councilors voted 6-1 approving an immigrant friendly memorial. Photo by John Acosta/ NM News Port

“There is a lot of widespread fear and panic among the community right now,” said Rachel Lazar, Executive Director of El Centro De Igualdad y Derechos – an Albuquerque based nonprofit that advocates for immigrant rights.

Lazar debunked the false claims of immigration checkpoints that have been posted about on social media, saying that they do not exist. She said it is illegal for ICE or U.S. Homeland Security to have checkpoints in Albuquerque because the law states a checkpoint can only occur if it is 100 miles from the Mexico and U.S. border.

These rules do not apply to ICE arrests. Arrests can happen anywhere and at any time. ICE officials need only a warrant to legally enter a house. This warrant is issued by a judge after determining that the person has committed a crime based on probable cause, according to the Immigrant Legal Resource Center.

On Wednesday, February 22, the Albuquerque City Council approved a memorial affirming Albuquerque as “immigrant friendly.”

The memorial states that the city will not utilize resources for identifying or apprehending illegal immigrants unless they are required to do so in compliance with federal law.

On Tuesday, Feb 28 UNM Faculty governance voted in favor passing a resolution making UNM a sanctuary campus.

U. S. Rep. Michelle Lujan Grisham (D-New Mexico) addresses a question from UNM professor Jose Palacios on Wednesday, Feb. 22. The congresswoman spoke at UNM and addressed many questions that international students had about President Trumps immigration executive orders. Photo by John Acosta / NM News Port

However, this resolution does not mean undocumented UNM students are safe from deportation. If President Trump removes  the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program (DACA), students who are currently protected under DACA run the risk of deportation.

U.S. Rep. Michelle Lujan Grisham (D-New Mexico), addressed the UNM international student community on Wednesday, Feb, 22. She fielded questions about President Trump’s new immigration orders. Rep. Grisham says cities without sanctuary policies are less safe.

“[Sanctuary City]creates an environment that you know you are free from city police investment and intervention, and we know what it creates, because people come out of the shadows, and it’s a safer more productive city,” Rep. Grisham said.

Committee tables bill to harshen penalties for reckless drivers

State Rep. Sarah Maestas Barnes on the house floor during the 2017 New Mexico Legislature. The Committee of Consumer and Public Affairs tabled a bill Maestas-Barnes sponsored- the bill would apply harsher penalties for reckless drivers. Photo: John Acosta

Reckless drivers in New Mexico will not receive harsher penalties for vehicular homicide, at least this year. This topic was addressed in Santa Fe, New Mexico on Tuesday Jan. 31.

NM State Rep. Sarah Maestas Barnes (R-Albuquerque) sponsored a bill in the 2017 legislative session that would increase the prison sentences of people convicted of vehicular homicide while driving recklessly.

“House bill 23 is a very simple and straight-forward piece of legislation,” Rep. Barnes said. “It is what some have referred to as a way to close the deadly driving loophole.”

The bill did not make it out of its first committee on the 14th calendar day of the 60-day legislative session.

House Bill 23 would have increased jail time for people convicted of homicide while driving recklessly. an increase from the current sentence of six years to 15 years. The bill would have also changed the crime to a second-degree felony instead of the current third-degree.

According to New Mexico Statute NMS 66-8-113, a person driving a vehicle carelessly, and disregarding the rights and safety of others at a speed or manner that endangers any person or property whether it be intentional or not, is guilty of reckless driving.

The House Consumer and Public Affair Committee heard the bill – with three Democrat committee members voting against it and two Republican committee members voting for it.

Afterward, Barnes said she feels the decision was completely partisan and that public safety should not be a partisan issue.

“We really should be focusing on good policy that benefits all New Mexicans,” Barnes said. “I made a commitment not just to the people that I represent, but all of New Mexico that I was never going to put partisan politics over the will of the people.”

New Mexico Public Defender, Kim Chavez-Cook said her opposition to HB 23 had nothing to do with partisan politics and everything to do with blurring the line between reckless driving and other serious driving offenses.

“My concern now is that we took that step last year to create that tier and now what we’re doing by raising the penalty for DUI and now we’re bringing that floor up for recklessness,” Chavez-Cook said. She also said raising the penalties on reckless driving would blur the line that is already in place for drunk driving.

In 2016 New Mexico ranked 14th, tied with Arizona, West Virginia, and South Dakota in the number of vehicular homicides caused by drunk drivers, according to the MADD website.

Another factor in the bill’s demise may have been the state’s considerable budget deficit.

The annual cost to incarcerate an offender in a state-run prison is $44,776, according to the Fiscal Impact Report prepared by the legislative committee

“That number seems excessively high.” said Bob Wooley (R-Albuquerque), a member of the Consumer and Public Affairs Committee.

As for future plans, Maestas-Barnes said she plans to reintroduce the bill next year… but for the 2017 legislative session, HB 23 is dead.