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.
ANTHONY, N.M. — Halfway between El Paso and Las Cruces is the place where Texas and New Mexico meet: four square miles of bucolic small-town America, surrounded by sprawling pecan orchards, farmland and dairies stocked with thousands of milk cows. It has all the blessings and all the curses of a small town — with a borderland twist. This close-knit, largely Spanish-speaking community is a place where many families have deep roots, and newcomers — mostly Mexican immigrants — are bienvenidos. The schools are good. The streets are generally safe, especially since the city incorporated in 2010 and got its own small police force.
When we at Searchlight New Mexico asked the four gubernatorial candidates to talk about the well-being of children, we weren’t looking for pro forma policy statements. We wanted to hear about their childhoods. We wanted to understand how those formative years shaped their thinking about what we regard, hands-down, as the most critical issue confronting New Mexico. How will the next governor approach the intractable problems facing the children and families who call this state home? How will he or she elevate the state from its ignoble ranking — as one of the worst places in America to raise a child?
Room No. 30 in the Tewa Motor Lodge was the only home 3-year-old C.J. Preece had ever known. The $30-a-night motel, on a seedy stretch of Albuquerque’s east Central Avenue, was what her parents could afford. The Preeces were struggling with drug and alcohol abuse when, in 2015, a caseworker from the Children, Youth and Families Department knocked on their door to investigate an allegation of neglect. “I was really mad,” recalls her mother, Carlotta Preece.
The 11-year-old boy’s explanation didn’t make sense. He had shown up Sept. 25, 2017, at San Juan Regional Medical Center in Farmington – purple bruises covering his body, ligature marks on his neck, a patch of hair ripped from his head and black eyes so badly swollen he couldn’t latch his glasses behind his ears. Doctors feared he had a skull fracture. He insisted he’d tripped in his front yard while practicing soccer.
EDITOR’S NOTE: When Diego Gallegos was named executive director of Youth Development Inc. in 2015, a staff member boasted to him about how well the organization had served families over the course of several generations. “‘We’re so excited because we’re serving the grandchildren of kids who used to be with us,’” Gallegos recalls being told. “I said, ‘And that’s a good thing?’ No, no, no, it’s not a good thing.”
Breaking the cycle of poverty and all its associated ills — poor schools, high school dropouts, teen pregnancy, substance abuse, incarceration — has never been easy. In New Mexico, it has met with decades of resistance, despite the efforts of dozens of state agencies and hundreds of nonprofits. What does it take to break the cycle?