ALBUQUERQUE — Joan Marentes knew her career in the Albuquerque Police Department was over the moment a state worker said she was ineligible for public assistance. Assigned to the Crimes Against Children Unit, Marentes was a decorated detective, named Officer of the Year in 2009 for her work keeping kids out of harm’s way. Often those same kids ended up placed in the care of grandparents or other relatives. Now, in an ironic twist, she had taken emergency custody of her own granddaughter after learning the child was being abused by her parents. Like hundreds of other grandparents, Marentes trusted that the state would help her deal with the sudden financial stress of taking in a child.
You won’t find James Ironmoccasin’s house on Google Maps. To get to his place on the northeastern edge of the Navajo Nation, head east from the 7-2-11 gas station on Highway 64 in Shiprock, take the sixth turn into “Indian Village,” a neighborhood of small, unnumbered houses on a winding, ungraded and nameless dirt lane, and follow for about a quarter mile, then turn at the dilapidated corral of horses. If he’s expecting you, Ironmoccasin, his jet-black hair parted to one side and a string of bright, traditional turquoise beads hanging around his neck, will be waiting to flag you down. “If you are kind of familiar with the area, and you’re good with directions, it’s OK,” he says with a chuckle. “I try to give the easier route.”
Though his family has lived on this square plot of land for the past 60 years, he says he can’t remember a time when any one of them — not his parents, not his sisters, not his brother, and certainly not himself — was counted in the decennial, or 10-year, U.S. census.
According to the state tourism bureau, Sunland Park is one of the last towns of the Old West, tucked below the commanding peak of Mt. Cristo Rey, a slender finger of southern New Mexico between El Paso and Juarez, Mexico. To the pride of city government, Sunland Park is one of the safest places in New Mexico, a fast-growing community of 16,500 and the largest border city in the state. In the dry, bureaucratic language of the U.S. Census Bureau, Sunland Park is simply one of the hardest-to-count tracts in the entire country. That characterization, however, is based on response rates from the 2010 census and may hardly still be applicable.
Billions of taxpayer dollars have flowed out of state since 2013 due to government purchases that are not filled — or cannot be filled — by New Mexico companies, a Searchlight New Mexico analysis finds. Over the past five years, 43 cents of every dollar the state paid companies and consultants went outside New Mexico’s borders, according to Searchlight’s analysis. That price tag stands at $3.2 billion and is growing. According to the state’s own data, spending on outside vendors grew faster than spending on in-state vendors over the past five years of Gov. Susana Martinez’ administration. That dynamic is unlikely to change without a significant overhaul of the state’s economy, according to several experts interviewed for this article.
In letters scrawled by hand, five immigrant fathers detained in New Mexico describe being separated from their children at the border and the uncertainty of when — or whether — they will be reunited. The men describe their anguish at being taken from their children and not knowing their children’s whereabouts for weeks or months. “I felt like I was dying,” wrote one father, who did not give his name or country of origin. The Legislature’s Courts, Corrections and Justice Committee heard their stories at a hearing July 16 on privately run immigrant prisons in the state. About 70 fathers who were separated from their children are currently being held at Cibola County Correctional Center, according to Allegra Love, director of the Santa Fe Dreamers Project, a legal advocacy organization.
SANTA FE — A death threat against immigration attorney Allegra Love launched an FBI investigation and forced the Santa Fe advocate to abandon her home until the danger passed, sources have told Searchlight New Mexico. The threat came in an April 29 voicemail from a New Mexico phone number. A man, who said he was coming to Santa Fe, growled into the phone: “I’m going to murder every one of you tyranny-loving mother—ers. Be ready for me! You are all f—ing dead.”
The next day, an FBI agent met Love at her office.
Editor’s note: Searchlight New Mexico receives funding support from the Annie E. Casey Foundation. Prospects for children in New Mexico are the worst in the nation, according to newly released data that rank states across 16 measures of child well-being. The state’s 50th place ranking follows years of scrabbling around the bottom rungs of the annual Kids Count report, a project of the Annie E. Casey Foundation and its network of state partners. Last year, New Mexico ranked 49th. The last time it ranked 50th was in 2013.
The Trump administration hasn’t just fired up the anti-immigration rhetoric; it has changed the system of enforcement in myriad ways. Specific actions taken within U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) — which processes visa and legal residency applications — and the government’s enforcement arm, Immigration and Customs Enforcement, or ICE, have drastically changed the landscape for undocumented and mixed-status immigrant families. Among the changes:
Prosecutorial discretion is gone. Under the Obama administration, immigration authorities were instructed to target the “worst of the worst.” ICE focused on arresting unauthorized immigrants who had committed additional crimes. Immigrants who had committed no crime other than crossing the border without permission were not targeted.
LAS CRUCES — The morning after Donald Trump was elected president of the United States, 6-year-old Anabell woke up with a pressing question for her mother: “Does that mean we’re leaving the country?’”
“No,” Nayeli Saenz reassured her daughter. “You were born here. You are a U.S. citizen.”
But Saenz, 34, is not. She was brought illegally from Mexico as a 9-year-old girl and has lived most of her life in the shadows. Las Cruces is where she graduated high school, got married and divorced, and raised three children.
Connie Flores never wanted to drop out of school, let alone leave in eighth grade. But like thousands of other teenagers who never graduate high school in New Mexico — a state with one of the highest dropout rates in the nation — Flores didn’t think she had a choice. She’d been an A student in her early school years in Santa Clara, the small village near Silver City where she grew up. “I loved school,” she says. But when Flores reached fifth grade, she says her mother, an alcoholic, began to rage out of control.