New Mexico one of 18 states to sue Pres. Trump over international student policy

New Mexico is one of 18 states suing the Trump administration over the new U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement rule that targets international students. The lawsuit calls the new regulation an “insuperable burden” on American colleges and universities as they now have to certify every international student’s respective class schedule to demonstrate that the students are not taking all of their course work online, by August 4. ICE issued the new regulation last week, which some affected New Mexico institutions of higher learning called “vague.” New Mexico Institute of Mining and Technology has 134 international students. The University of New Mexico has 1,100 and New Mexico State University has about a 1,000. The regulation states that students on nonimmigrant F-1 or M-1 visas cannot legally remain in the country if all of their course work is online.

Indoor dining at restaurants nixed amid increase in cases, and more

Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham, citing an “untenable” increase in cases, brought back some restrictions beginning Monday, including saying that restaurants and breweries will not be able to have indoor service and restricting access to state parks to New Mexico residents only. But, she warned on Thursday, if things don’t improve, in-person schooling will not reopen this fall because it would not be safe for students, educators or other staff. This all came as the state sees its highest increase in cases, even higher than the first peak in May. The state has announced more than 200 cases of COVID-19 for over a week, and cases increased by 79 percent over the last 16 days. Secretary of Health Kathyleen Kunkel said DOH has done 491 “rapid responses” for testing at places of employment since May 11. 

She also noted the long lines as people seek tests at places like Balloon Fiesta Park in Albuquerque, with some getting in line as early as 3 a.m.—causing those running the site to close down operations before 9 a.m. because so many people were in line.

WATCH: Gov. Lujan Grisham’s 7/9 COVID-19 press conference

Update: See the recap of the press conference here. On Thursday afternoon at 4 p.m., Gov. Michelle Lujan held a press conference to discuss COVID-19 and the state’s response. COVID-19 cases have been increasing in recent days, with a week of reporting 200 or more confirmed cases each day. The state’s current public health order will expire on July 15, though it can be amended. See the press conference below.

ACLU again calling on Lujan Grisham to expand prison releases to slow the spread of COVID-19

The American Civil Liberties Union of New Mexico is once again calling on state officials, namely the governor and her Department of Corrections secretary, to expand their efforts to lower prison populations in light of COVID-19. The ACLU-NM sent a letter Tuesday to Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham and her legal counsel, asking the state to revisit the issue of how to lower inmate populations as a way to increase social distancing and slow the spread of COVID-19 within prison walls. 

The letter praised Lujan Grisham for the “bold measures” she has taken to protect New Mexicans in general, but went on to invoke a quote from Nelson Mandela while encouraging the governor to consider inmates’ health. 

“We ask you to apply the same strong, decisive, and forward-thinking approach to protect the lives of incarcerated New Mexicans as you have for the rest of the state,” the letter read. “After all, ‘a nation should not be judged by how it treats its highest citizens, but it’s lowest ones’– a notion that could not be more glaring than during this pandemic.”

The letter asks the governor to not just release inmates about 30 days before they are scheduled to leave, but to also consider early parole for some inmates and to consider releasing inmates who are serving prison sentences as a result of technical parole or probation violations. 

But ACLU-NM Staff Attorney Lalita Moskowitz, who is also a cosigner of the letter, told NM Political Report that a key ask from the organization is transparency. 

State health officials and the governor’s office have consistently released information about how many people in the state have tested positive for the disease among a long list of other things. But Moskowitz said the ACLU would like to see specific breakdowns regarding how many tests were performed within prisons and how many staff members tested positive. 

“[Inmates’] families and the communities that are surrounding these facilities really deserve to know what’s going on there and deserve to be kept aware and not have to be wondering if there’s an outbreak we don’t know about, or if they’re testing anyone after a positive case,” Moskowitz said. 

In April, Lujan Grisham signed an executive order to release inmates, who meet certain qualifications, 30 days before their scheduled release date. By May, the ACLU-NM and the New Mexico Law Offices of the Public Defender asked the state supreme court to intervene and compel the governor’s office to broaden the scope of who can be released and when.

Lujan Grisham signs body camera bill into law

Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham on Wednesday signed into law a requirement for all law enforcement officers to wear body cameras, regardless of jurisdiction. According to the new law, agencies must also keep footage for at least 120 days. 

Sponsored by Sen. Joseph Cervantes, D-Las Cruces, SB 8 would also allow the New Mexico Law Enforcement Academy Board to revoke certification from any law enforcement officer who is found guilty of using illegal use of force while on duty. 

The law comes amid a national push for police accountability, but also after years of pushing from advocates to get local police departments to start using body cameras. 

The Bernalillo County Sheriff’s Office, is one example of an agency that resisted supplying officers with body cameras. Bernalillo County Sheriff Manny Gonzalez has long argued that body cameras present an unnecessary cost to his department. 

Lujan Grisham added the issue of police body cameras to the list of proposals the Legislature could consider during the special legislative session that took place last month. 

According to a press release sent out by Lujan Grisham’s office, the governor added body cameras to the call after George Floyd died while a Minneapolis police officer pressed his knee against Floyd’s neck for nearly nine minutes.   

Prosecutors have charged the officer, Derek Chauvin, with second-degree murder and manslaughter, and charged three officers who were nearby and did not intervene with aiding and abetting murder and manslaughter. Video of the killing prompted worldwide protests, including in New Mexico, against police brutality and calls to defund police departments.

The Carlsbad region was poised to send $3 billion to New Mexico coffers, thanks to one of the biggest oil booms in history. Then came COVID.

On a Thursday in late May, Michael Trujillo sat in the slightly softened evening light and watched his three children play in the water at Lake Carlsbad Beach Park, an unexpected patch of blue in the Chihuahuan desert. With his pit bull puppy at his feet, Trujillo passed slices of pizza from a stack of three Little Caesars boxes to two men in camp chairs. All three are oilfield workers, Carlsbad natives and, unlike thousands of others in the industry, all are still employed. But that hasn’t relieved their anger at the New Mexico governor and her coronavirus shutdown orders. “She needs to open the place up and let us do what we need to do,” the 36-year-old Trujillo said. 

Like a lot of people in town, Trujillo wishes Carlsbad was in Texas. 

This story originally appeared at Searchlight New Mexico and is republished with permission. In that state, just 40 miles to the south, Republican Gov. Greg Abbott didn’t order a COVID-19 lockdown until April 2 and allowed businesses to start reopening by May 1.

State not releasing COVID-19 numbers for county jails

As COVID-19 numbers continue to rise within state-run detention centers across New Mexico, namely in Otero County, the numbers for county jails often go overlooked by the general public. 

Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham’s office reports the number of positive cases within state and federal detention centers daily. Her office also includes the number of congregate care facilities that have seen positive tests in the last 28 days. But those daily reports do not include any information on the roughly half a dozen county jails around the state. 

According to the state Department of Health, those numbers are purposefully left out of daily reports because state officials think they would add more confusion than clarification. 

During a news conference on Wednesday, NM Political Report asked Lujan Grisham why the state was not releasing COVID-19 numbers for county detention centers. She said even though the state is collecting those numbers they are not released in daily updates from her office. Without clarifying the reason for not including those numbers in the updates, she said the data is there. 

“We know by zip code, we know by, often, occupation, we know by correctional facility, we know whether it’s staff or it’s an inmate, whether in a nursing home, whether it’s staff or a resident, we are and we continue to refine getting the data,” Lujan Grisham said. 

Immediately after the news conference, NM Political Report requested that data from Lujan Grisham’s office, but was told by a DOH spokesman that any request for county detention center data would need to be requested from the counties themselves. 

David Morgan, a spokesman for DOH, said the information would have to come from the counties that oversee each regional detention center and would likely require an official records request pursuant to the state’s Inspection of Public Records Act (IPRA).

If COVID-19 situation doesn’t improve, NM may bring back restrictions

Not only is the state not going to expand its reopening, but if the COVID-19 situation in the state does not improve, the state could be looking at reimposing restrictions like other states throughout the country, including two that neighbor New Mexico. That was the message during Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham’s weekly press conference on COVID-19 in the state. 

“If we do not stabilize, we will move backward,” she said. Related: NM hits 500 total COVID-19 deaths

She announced two big changes to a public health order, which will run through July 15: All travelers from other states will be required to self-quarantine for 14 days and those not wearing masks in public will be subject to fines. Lujan Grisham said she wished she didn’t have to enforce the mask mandate through fines, but that there was not enough adherence to the state’s mask requirement. Businesses will also have a responsibility, she said. 

“Businesses, you must require customers to wear face coverings,” Lujan Grisham said.

WATCH: Gov. Lujan Grisham’s weekly COVID-19 press conference

Wednesday afternoon ,Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham and state officials held their weekly press conference on COVID-19. Since last Wednesday, the state Department of Health announced 1,157 cases, while cases have increased by large numbers in Arizona and Texas and those states, and others, have reimposed some restrictions. The entire press conference is available below. See the NM Political Report story on what the governor said here.

Governor signs revised budget, vetoes items

Governors don’t usually sign a budget twice in one year. But this is no normal year. Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham gave her blessing to New Mexico’s revised budget legislation Tuesday, but she also used her veto power to cancel some of the cuts legislators approved during the special session. “We must recalibrate our state’s budget to meet these challenging times,” Lujan Grisham wrote in a letter to the state House of Representatives upon signing House Bill 1. “However, we should not lose sight of the important work that is still needed to create lasting opportunities for all New Mexicans.”

The budget plan uses a combination of spending cuts, reserves and federal funding to deal with a projected $2 billion drop in state revenue for the next fiscal year, which begins Wednesday.