Milan Simonich, Santa Fe New Mexican
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 to stop local and state police agencies from investigating or apprehending foreigners suspected of breaking federal immigration law.
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.
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.
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.