A panel of Democrats in the New Mexico Senate used their superior numbers Friday to advance a bill that would prohibit state and local police agencies from using any resources to enforce federal immigration law.
The Public Affairs Committee voted 4-3 for the measure, Senate Bill 196. All the Republicans on the committee voted against the bill, but didn’t bother debating it.
Immigrants and their advocacy groups packed a hearing room to support the bill. New Mexico’s chief law enforcement officer, state Attorney General Hector Balderas, sent a surrogate to announce that he favors it. Balderas is a Democrat.
The bill’s intent is to stop local and state police agencies from investigating or apprehending foreigners suspected of breaking federal immigration law.
Sen. Jeff Steinborn, D-Las Cruces, said he supports the bill based on a division of labor. The federal government is responsible for immigration policy and law. This means it bears responsibility for enforcement, Steinborn said.
The Santa Fe City Council in 1999 approved a resolution prohibiting any use of municipal resources to enforce immigration law. This includes police officers working their beat.
Other cities and counties in New Mexico operate in similar fashion, choosing not to use staff or equipment to investigate anyone’s immigration status, said Marcela Diaz, executive director of the immigrant advocacy group Somos un Pueblo Unido.
But, Diaz said, some law enforcement agencies in the Four Corners area and southeastern part of the state work with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement to apprehend people suspected of immigration violations.
Dulce Ozuna, an immigrant who testified in Spanish before the Senate committee, said she called the San Juan County Sheriff’s Office to report that a neighbor had killed her dog. Ozuna said Immigration and Customs Enforcement then arrived at her door and apprehended her husband on an immigration violation.
Ozuna, who makes her living selling tamales, said her complaint about a crime turned into an investigation of her family.
Neither San Juan County Sheriff Shane Ferrari nor his second-in-command could be reached for comment Friday. Both were out of the office for the day, Ferrari’s assistant said.
Four Corners communities are split on immigration enforcement.
The San Juan County Sheriff’s Office has a history of working with Immigration and Customs Enforcement, Diaz said. But the mayor of Aztec, the San Juan County seat, released an open letter Friday opposing any use of local resources to enforce immigration law.
“I want to give my strongest and most full-throated endorsement of SB 196, the bill that ensures our taxpayers’ money will not be used to subsidize the already well-funded U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s enforcement of immigration law in our local communities,” stated Mayor Victor Snover.
The bill goes next to the Senate Judiciary Committee. It is chaired by one of the proposal’s sponsors, Sen. Richard Martinez, D-Española.
A mirror bill has been introduced in the House of Representatives by Rep. Patricia Roybal Caballero, D-Albuquerque.