February 9, 2017

House panel approves NM ‘sanctuary’ bill

Laura Paskus

A state House of Representatives panel approved a bill to bar local law enforcement agencies in New Mexico from enforcing federal immigration laws.

The bill, which according to a fiscal analysis would prohibit state resources from being used against anyone “whose only violation is being in the United States illegally,” passed on a party line 3-2 vote in the House Consumer and Public Affairs Committee.

The two “no” votes came from state Reps. Monica Youngblood of Albuquerque and Bob Wooley of Roswell. Both are Republicans.

Several New Mexico municipalities, including Santa Fe, practice this approach on the city level.

Youngblood underscored her concerns during debate, citing a note in the bill’s fiscal impact report from state Attorney General Hector Balderas that the measure “could possibly jeopardize federal funding and other assistance for state and local law enforcement agencies.”

“This is a poor state,” Youngblood said. “By cutting off federal resources, I think this is fiscally irresponsible.”

The bill’s sponsor, state Rep. Patricia Roybal Caballero, D-Albuquerque, responded by arguing that state law enforcement money is better spent “against local criminals” than enforcing immigration laws that federal law enforcement agencies are already tasked with. She added that she respects opinions in fiscal impact reports but argued that “they are opinions and cautions about proceeding.”

Roybal Caballero recalled an immigration crackdown in El Paso during the 1980s that included “massive raids” in workplaces and homes. She talked about a border patrol agent stopping by her house while she gardened in her front lawn, wearing a sombrero.

“Border patrol stopped and asked to speak to the owner of the house,” she said. “I answered, ‘I am the owner of the house.’ He asked where I was born. I said in El Paso, Texas. He asks if I’m a United States citizen. I said, ‘I thought El Paso was in the United States of America.’”

The border patrol agent then told her, Roybal Caballero said, that he could detain her for “being aggressive in your answer.”

“I have brown skin,” Roybal Caballero said. “I was obviously being profiled.”

Roybal Caballero said her bill is intended to prevent “that type of crossing the lines” by law enforcement officers, especially “during this time of national fear that is being perpetuated by a [presidential] administration that is intentionally profiling immigrants and refugees.”

Wooley asked whether an officer stopping somebody on the road would still have a right to scan that person’s records for outstanding warrants, to which Roybal Caballero responded in the affirmative.

“We’re not attempting to circumvent that process,” she said.

Despite its high-profile subject, the bill drew only two public comments—from members of the Sierra Club’s local chapter and the American Civil Liberties Union of New Mexico. Both organizations spoke in support.

The bill now heads to the House Judiciary Committee.