Who gets to adopt Native children? 

By Michael Benanav, Searchlight New Mexico

There once was a girl who lived in Corrales and loved collecting butterflies. She would capture perhaps 20 or 30 of them at a time, take them inside, then set them free to fly around her bedroom. Another thing she noticed about herself: Whenever she happened to be on the verge of a big life change, a coyote would appear. “Not like one running across the road,” Veronica Krupnick, now 27 years old, recalled, “but like I’d be out on a walk with my family, and a coyote would follow along close behind us.” 

For years, these uncanny animal connections struck her as mysterious and sometimes unsettling. “I didn’t have anyone to teach me about them,” Krupnick said, until she was reintroduced to her Hopi grandparents when she was 19 or 20.

Will New Mexico’s new law stop a proposed nuclear waste dump?

This story was written in collaboration with Searchlight New Mexico. In March, New Mexico lawmakers took their biggest step yet in an attempt to block plans for a nuclear waste storage facility in the scrublands near Carlsbad. The legislature passed Senate Bill 53 on a largely partisan vote, seeking to block Holtec International’s eight-year effort to build a facility in southeastern New Mexico that would hold 8,680 metric tons of high-level radioactive waste from nuclear power plants across the country. The state has been challenging Holtec’s plans for years, both in court and before the federal Nuclear Regulatory Commission. But New Mexico’s best chance at stopping the project may come in the form of the new law, which became effective when Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham signed it on March 17.

A deadly cry for help

by Vanessa G. Sánchez and Joshua Bowling, Searchlight New Mexico 

Collin Neztsosie was no stranger to the Albuquerque Police Department. Its officers had transported him to the ER on numerous occasions when he was in the throes of a mental health crisis. He was listed in the department’s database as a person with acute psychiatric needs; in January 2022, APD assigned a specially-trained crisis intervention officer to regularly check in on him. 

That same officer had promised Neztsosie that police would be there whenever he heard voices in his head, family members said. “The cops told him if you have any trouble, any issues, you feel suicidal, you want to hurt somebody, you want to hurt yourself, call 911,” his sister, Natasha Neztsosie, recounted. 

That promise went up in smoke on March 19, 2022, when the 33-year-old Navajo father of two — in the midst of another mental health crisis — was shot and killed by Albuquerque police. It happened just a few blocks from his sister’s apartment in the city’s Singing Arrow neighborhood. 

“They just shot my brother right in the head,” said Natasha, sitting on a couch surrounded by portraits her brother painted for her.

Maternal health crisis in New Mexico: Services shrink, risks grow

by Vanessa G. Sánchez 

CLOVIS — Victoria Robledo was two months pregnant last June when the only women’s health clinic in this eastern New Mexico town closed its doors. Hers was a complicated pregnancy that demanded specialized care, and Robledo, 24, soon found herself driving long distances – 100 miles to Lubbock, Texas, for her first ultrasound, 220 miles to Albuquerque for a special test that revealed the umbilical cord was in a knot.   

She was terrified she would lose the baby. Then, at 36 weeks she lost all prenatal care services and was so desperate for care that she met with Clovis Mayor Mike Morris. “I can’t get the help my baby needs,” she told him. 

“I never really understood how dire the need is until I experienced it myself,” said Robledo, who divides her time working as a receptionist, a maternal health activist and the mother of a preschooler and a toddler. Pregnant women all across New Mexico are facing similar dilemmas.

Homeless shelters aren’t equipped to deal with New Mexico’s most troubled foster kids. Police see it for themselves.

by Ed Williams, Searchlight New Mexico, and Joel Jacobs, ProPublica

ProPublica is a Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative newsroom. Sign up for The Big Story newsletter to receive stories like this one in your inbox. Series: Nowhere to Go

New Mexico’s Troubled Foster Care System

Near the pumps of a gas station in Las Cruces, New Mexico, a teenager in foster care sat in the back of a squad car, sobbing and gasping for air. Her hands were cuffed and her legs were bound in a “wrap restraint” to prevent her from thrashing about. A protective foam helmet covered her head.

New Mexico cities look to divert police from 911 calls for mental health

by Joshua Bowling and Vanessa G. Sánchez, Searchlight New Mexico

It was just after 6:30 one evening last April when Las Cruces police officer Jared Cosper responded to a mental health call. The family of Amelia Baca, a 75-year-old grandmother with dementia, had called 911, saying she appeared to be off her medication and was threatening them. They needed help. Cosper, trained in crisis intervention, according to a subsequent lawsuit, arrived at the Bacas’ front door and instructed family members to step outside. Police body camera video shows Baca’s granddaughter thanking the officer and asking him to “be very careful with her.” The elderly woman — who spoke only Spanish — came to the door, a kitchen knife in each hand.

Immigrant oil workers in NM support a shift to clean energy

Since New Mexico’s early days of statehood, the oil and gas industry has ingrained itself in the fabric of the state’s finances. Today, Big Oil executives and pro-industry politicians link the state’s well-being with the success of oil and gas, highlighting its significance to the economy at every turn. But while the oil and gas sector does serve as the primary source of employment in many parts of New Mexico, not all workers or their families feel that the continued dominance of the industry presents the best future for their communities. In the southeastern part of the state, home to the oil-rich Permian Basin, a grassroots organization has come out in support of a clean energy transition. This story is from Searchlight New Mexico and is republished with permission.