Inside a private prison’s $150M deal to detain immigrants in New Mexico

Just shy of his third year in the United States, 24-year-old oil pipeline worker Diego Navarro said goodbye to his California friends. It was early April, and the Oklahoma resident was anxious to return home, having used a break in his work schedule to make the trip west. Navarro, who entered the U.S. without documentation in 2014, typically worked 10- to 14-hour days as part of the country’s petroleum processing machine. But at a stop for gas during the drive back with a friend, Navarro was swept up in the billion-dollar business of private immigrant detention instead. This story was originally published by Reveal from The Center for Investigative Reporting, a nonprofit news organization based in the San Francisco Bay Area.

Why save the small town?

The old mine isn’t far from downtown. After nearly a century carving molybdenum from the land around Questa, today the only mining-related jobs in this northern New Mexico hamlet are restoring what miners spent the last 100 years taking apart. Chevron ceased operations for good in 2014, laying off around 300 people in this majority-Hispanic town of 1,700. Though what’s next for Questa is unclear, few question the mine’s future. This time, the jobs aren’t coming back.

Take a job, create another

An immigration attorney I know shared a document with me recently: an appeal sent to the U.S. Department of Justice Board of Immigration, the government office that interprets and applies immigration laws. The document told the story of how in the summer of 2014, at the height of the humanitarian crisis at the U.S.-Mexico border that brought tens of thousands of unaccompanied child migrants seeking asylum, Border Patrol agents stopped one child (referred to simply as “Y-F”) and interrogated him in Spanish. “Why did you leave your home country or country of last residence?” the officers asked. “To look for work,” Y-F allegedly told them. At the time of the interrogation, Y-F was only three years old.

GOP chair of nuclear safety agency secretly urges Trump to abolish it

The chairman of a panel charged with protecting workers at nuclear weapons facilities as well as nearby communities has told the White House he favors downsizing or abolishing the group, despite recent radiation and workplace safety problems that injured or endangered people at the sites it helps oversee. Republican appointee Sean Sullivan, a former Navy submarine officer, told the director of the Office of Management and Budget in a private letter that closing or shrinking the Defense Nuclear Facilities Safety Board he chairs is consistent with President Trump’s ambition to cut the size of the federal workforce, according to a copy of Sullivan’s letter. It was written in June and obtained recently by the Center for Public Integrity. The five-member Defense Nuclear Facilities Safety Board, chartered by Congress, has helped persuade the federal government to impose tighter safety rules and regulations at most of the eight nuclear weapons sites — employing more than 40,000 workers — where nuclear weapons and their parts are produced or stored. Nonetheless, the nuclear weapons complex in recent years has experienced alarming problems, including the mishandling of plutonium, a radioactive explosive; the mis-shipment of hazardous materials, including nuclear explosive materials;  and the contamination of work areas and scientists by radioactive particles — shortcomings detailed in a recent Center for Public Integrity investigation. Sullivan’s position is consistent with the longstanding preferences of the large private contractors that produce and maintain the country’s nuclear arms, most of which also contribute heavily to congressional election campaigns and spend sizable sums lobbying Washington.

Stunner on birth control: Trump’s moral exemption is geared to just 2 groups

Few people were surprised last week when the Trump administration issued a rule to make it easier for some religious employers to opt out of offering no-cost prescription birth control to their female employees under the Affordable Care Act. But a separate regulation issued at the same time raised eyebrows. It creates a new exemption from the requirement that most employers offer contraceptive coverage. This one is for “non-religious organizations with sincerely held moral convictions inconsistent with providing coverage for some or all contraceptive services.”

So what’s the difference between religious beliefs and moral convictions? This story originally appeared on Kaiser Health News, a national health policy news service that is part of the nonpartisan Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation.

National Park Service survey finds widespread harassment

Nearly 40 percent of National Park Service employees experienced some form of harassment over a 12-month period, according to long-awaited survey results released by the agency. The survey assessed sexual harassment, hostile work environment and gender discrimination in the nation’s parks, monuments and recreation areas. About 19 percent of respondents reported gender-based harassment; 10 percent said they encountered sexual harassment; and .95 percent said they experienced sexual assault. Some employees reported harassment based on their race, age or disability as well. About 50 percent of the Park Service’s permanent employees responded to the survey; a second survey, aimed at seasonal employees, is still in the works. On Oct.

Candidates question value of Mayor Berry’s ‘groundbreaking’ ABQ crime report

The “groundbreaking research” Albuquerque Mayor Richard Berry commissioned on crime — the city’s No. 1 issue — may sit on a shelf unused when his successor takes office Dec. 1. Why? The two candidates headed for a mayoral runoff election next month, two-term Republican city councilor Dan Lewis and Democratic state Auditor Tim Keller, said the information about crime concentration likely won’t guide their crime-fighting plans if elected.

The Navajo Nation has a wild horse problem

Up to 40,000 wild horses wander the Navajo Nation, roaming across 27,000 miles of deep canyons, rugged hills and huge mountains, according to aerial estimates from the Bureau of Indian Affairs. In just five years, the population is expected to double. Already the feral horses compete with domestic animals, sheep or cattle, and wildlife for water and sparse vegetation. Yet a Navajo Nation oversight committee recently denied an $800,000 funding request from the tribe’s Fish and Wildlife Department to help reduce the horse population, leaving the nation with few alternatives. “Right now, there is no program,” Leo Watchman, Navajo Nation Agriculture Department director, told me recently.

Democracy and lots of money are at stake for New Mexico in the upcoming census

Pop quiz. Which of the following statements are true? The census is constitutionally required in order to count every person in the U.S.
The census determines how much federal money—more than $6 billion—flows into New Mexico’s economy every year. New Mexicans are more at risk of not being counted by the census than are people in most every other state. The census is in jeopardy—and that puts New Mexicans in jeopardy.

ABQ city council committee delays vote on ATF resolution

An Albuquerque City Council committee voted Monday evening to defer for 90 days a resolution asking New Mexico’s congressional delegation to push for an investigation of a 2016 federal law enforcement operation that netted a highly disproportionate number of black people. Councilor Pat Davis*, who sponsored the measure, cast the lone vote to send it to the full City Council. This story originally appeared at New Mexico In Depth and is used with permission. Voting to defer the resolution were councilors Don Harris — who made the motion to delay the vote — Ken Sanchez, Brad Winter and Klarissa Peña. That means the council’s Finance and Government Operations Committee will rehear the resolution after 90 days during which time city officials hope to gather more information.