The tony neighborhoods tucked into the juniper-dotted grasslands on the east side of the Sandia Mountains represent yet another battleground in New Mexico’s water wars, one in which the state’s top water official has abandoned one side for the other. Last week, testimony ended in a trial over whether a private company can pump more water—114 million gallons more each year—from the Sandia Basin. Nancy Benson and her husband live in San Pedro Creek Estates, where they built their retirement home in 2000 after living in Albuquerque. She is shocked the state would consider granting the application after rejecting it previously. “This area is fully appropriated, there is nothing extra,” she said.
The U.S. Department of Justice is again threatening to withhold some crimefighting funds from Bernalillo County over what the Trump administration has called “sanctuary” policies. The DOJ contacted Bernalillo County and 22 other jurisdictions, including New York City and the states of California, Illinois and Oregon, saying they violated the law that promotes sharing immigration enforcement information with the federal government. DOJ says the statute requires cooperation as a condition for receiving grants through the Edward Byrne Memorial Justice Assistance Grant Program. Wednesday, DOJ threatened to subpoena officials who do not comply with their documents request. The threat is the latest in the fight between the federal government and local jurisdictions they deem as “sanctuary.” There is no formal definition of a so-called “sanctuary” city or county, though the Trump administration generally uses it to refer to local jurisdictions that do not fully comply with federal requests to aid enforcement of immigration law.
Garrett Petrie and Teri Farley moved to New Mexico about ten years ago. They found a house on five acres in the East Mountains because they liked being “off the grid.” Moving from Tucson, they were both well-aware of the water issues in the region. “We asked a lot of questions,” Petrie said. “We kept hearing things like, the wells really vary out here and you can get a good one, you can get a bad one.”
They thought they had a good well when they bought the house.
The Department of Justice says for the city of Albuquerque to qualify for a partnership to combat violent crime, the city will have to comply with efforts federal immigration enforcement for immigrants who are detained. To qualify for the cooperation and funding, the DOJ says Albuquerque, and three other cities, must answer questions on how the city cooperates with federal authorities on immigration
“By protecting criminals from immigration enforcement, cities and states with so-called ‘sanctuary’ policies make all of us less safe,” Attorney General Jeff Sessions said in a statement. “We saw that just last week, when an illegal alien who had been deported twenty times and was wanted by immigration authorities allegedly sexually assaulted an elderly woman in Portland, a city that refuses to cooperate with immigration enforcement.”
The term “sanctuary-city” does not have a specific definition, but the term is usually used to refer to municipalities that don’t fully cooperate with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement on enforcing federal immigration laws. The federal program in question is the Public Safety Partnership, announced in June by the DOJ. The City of Albuquerque currently does not use city resources to help federal authorities apprehend or identify undocumented immigrants unless otherwise required by law.
After more than 45 minutes of sometimes-impassioned public comment in Albuquerque Tuesday night, the Bernalillo County Commission voted to reaffirm Bernalillo County’s status as an immigrant-friendly county. The commission voted 4-1 to approve the resolution. This echoes votes by the Albuquerque City and Santa Fe city councils in recent weeks. On the same night, the Village of Corrales rejected a similar resolution. In addition to declaring the county immigrant-friendly, the resolution also asked that “no county monies, resources or personnel shall be used to enforce federal civil immigration laws or to investigate, question, detect or apprehend person on basis of immigration status unless otherwise required by law to do so.”
Commissioner Stephen Michael Quezada sponsored the legislation.
One ballot Bernalillo County initiatives voters will weigh in on this election season may appear perplexing on the surface, but the idea is relatively simple. “It’s basically like a constitution for the county,” former Bernalillo County attorney Randy Autio said of the proposition to establish a home rule charter in the county. “It sets guidelines on what governance in the county would look like.”
The county is home to more than 674,000 people, including all of Albuquerque, and is currently subject to the same governance guidelines as all but one other county in New Mexico. One of those guidelines from state law, for example, only allows for a maximum of five elected officials to represent the county. But state law also allows communities to establish “home rule,” which Autio said would give county voters “the greatest ability to govern themselves.” If voters approve this for Bernalillo County next week, they could in the future push to amend the charter to change the number of county commissioners, who currently represent more than 100,000 people per district on average.
As early voting enters its final week, roughly 300,000 people have already cast ballots, nearly 260,000 through early voting. These numbers, as of close of polls Saturday, come from the Secretary of State’s office. Early voting was not open Sunday, and the final day of early voting will be Saturday. Absentee ballots must be returned by close of polls on Tuesday to be valid. The new numbers show Democrats maintaining a solid lead over Republicans, but declining.
Bernalillo County has the most residents and the most registered voters in the state—but right now, Doña Ana County has the most voters who have cast ballots early. That is according to numbers from Tuesday morning from both counties, two counties with a number of key legislative races and the two counties with the largest number of registered voters, as of Sept. 30. In Doña Ana County, 6,639 people voted early, as of 11:45 a.m. compared to 4,293 voters in Bernalillo County who cast their votes early as of approximately the same time. That is 6 percent of registered voters in Doña Ana County and 1 percent of registered voters in Bernalillo County.
A high profile ballot proposal that would require businesses to provide paid sick leave to employees will likely not be on the ballot this November. A district judge in Albuquerque ruled Monday county commissioners legally have the discretion to deny ballot access to city initiatives during general elections. Second Judicial District Judge Alan Malott told a courtroom packed with advocates both for and against the paid sick leave initiative that he would not order the Bernalillo County Commission to add the proposal to the November general election ballot. “The county cannot be forced to include the proposed ordinance,” Malott said. Malott also ruled the full text of the order must be on the ballot when it does go in front of voters, which is likely in 2017.
New Mexicans are headed to the polls on election day —and it appears voters are out in full force in some of the state’s most populous counties. In Bernalillo County, more than 1,000 voters turned out within 15 minutes of the polls opening. A spokesman for the Bernalillo County Clerk’s office said within the first hour, voting convenience centers saw about 4,000 voters overall. As of 11:00 a.m., four hours after voting convenience centers opened, 14,275 votes were cast in Bernalillo County. Bernalillo County has also received 222 returned absentee ballots.