A bill to end immigration detention in New Mexico passed Senate Health and Public Affairs on a party-line vote of 6-3 on Wednesday.
SB 145, sponsored by state Sen. Antoinette Sedillo Lopez, D-Albuquerque, is a bill that would prohibit public bodies in New Mexico from entering into intergovernmental contracts with private entities and end such intergovernmental agreements that public bodies in New Mexico have already entered into. Sedillo Lopez introduced an amendment to the bill, also adopted by the committee on a 6-3 party-line vote, to add language to prevent someone from “gaming the system.”
“And do an amendment before the statute is effective. They might end up in negotiation for 500 days or whatever. We don’t want that to happen. As soon as the statute is effective, the termination needs to be for the earliest date permissible,” Sedillo Lopez said.
The bill would impact Torrance, Otero and Cibola counties, all of which have intergovernmental agreements with for-profit companies that operate three immigrant detention centers in the state. All three detention centers have been cited for human rights violations, expert witness Sophia Genovese, senior attorney with New Mexico Immigration Law Center, said. Genevose said there are six attorneys in New Mexico offering legal services to asylum seekers held in these detention centers and around 2,000 detained.
She cited physical abuse, due process violations, bug and rodent infestations, forced labor, medical conditions ignored, sewage leaks, a lack of drinking water and inedible food. She said the individuals are “treated worse than animals” and are losing weight, look emaciated and are getting sick.
Representatives from all three counties spoke during public comment and said shutting down the facilities would lead to an economic loss to their communities in terms of wages, jobs, county bonds as well as the income the county receives for these intergovernmental contracts.
State Sen. Greg Nibert, R-Roswell, said he found the conditions described “deplorable” but said he was concerned that terminating the contracts would impact “a lot of people who live in those counties and who derive their income and their economic base,” from the facilities. He said that driving the detention facilities out of New Mexico would only drive the detention with the same conditions elsewhere.
“At least we would not be complicit in it,” Sedillo Lopez said.
State Sen. Antonio “Moe” Maestas, D-Albuquerque, asked a similar question, saying that with the U.S. Congress appropriating funding to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security for more than $1 billion to house migrants, if the government will send the migrants to another location in the U.S.
Genovese said that this bill is part of a growing movement amongst states and that if New Mexico enacts it, it would become the eighth state to do so. She said that the more states that pass this law, the fewer beds the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement have available.
“It’s truly random who is detained and who is released. What drives the decision is ICE bed space. You can help asylum seekers seek asylum from the comfort of their home where they can access legal resources and social services [if the bill is enacted]. We can’t control what happens out of state, but we can send a strong message to our federal government,” Genovese said.
State Sen. Steven McCutcheon II, R-Carlsbad, asked what would happen to the individuals detained on May 15, if the bill is enacted.
Genovese said there would be a winding down period that would last, depending on the individual contract, for 60 days or 120 days. She said most asylum seekers have sponsors in the U.S. they could be released to.
State Sen. Jerry Ortiz y Pino, D-Albuquerque, said that if the individuals detained are fleeing their home countries for political or religious asylum or they are fleeing violence. He also asked that, with so few judges to hear the asylum seekers’ claims and so few resources to help the asylum seekers, “how long does it take before they get a hearing?”
Genovese said that some are deprived of their due process before the hearing during the credible fear interview.
Ortiz y Pino said that a lot of problems would “vanish very quickly,” if asylum seekers were allowed to live in their communities in the U.S. and seek their claim for asylum from their homes.
“They would do the jobs people are dying for people to do. They could rent their own places. It’s a problem of our own making by trying to be tough on immigration. We’re hitting people who are following the law and making it harder for everybody,” he said.
The bill heads next to the Senate Judiciary Committee.