Bernalillo County to remain an immigrant-friendly community

Bernalillo County will remain an immigrant friendly community after all, with the commission majority refusing to alter its policy despite a renewed threat by the U.S. Justice Department to withhold public safety grants from so-called sanctuary cities.

Commissioner Wayne Johnson had asked his colleagues to rescind a resolution approved in March that declared Bernalillo County an immigrant-friendly community. His proposal would also have required the county to give the Department of Justice access to county-operated detention facilities.

But commissioners overwhelmingly rejected the proposal Tuesday night. Johnson, a Republican who is running for mayor of Albuquerque, was the only commissioner to vote in favor. Commission chairwoman Debbie O’Malley and Commissioners Steven Michael Quezada and Maggie Hart Stebbins, all Democrats, and Republican Lonnie Talbert voted against the measure.

The immigrant friendly resolution that Johnson tried to rescind is largely symbolic, although it does prohibit the use of county money or personnel to ascertain anyone’s immigration status or to apprehend individuals based on their immigration status, unless required to do so by law.

Throngs of immigrants and immigrant rights activists packed into the commission chamber to demonstrate their opposition to Johnson’s proposal. Dozens of people, including undocumented individuals and representatives from immigrant rights groups, faith communities and the American Civil Liberties Union of New Mexico, asked commissioners to vote down the measure.

But the harshest criticism came from former Albuquerque City Councilor Rey Garduño, who accused Johnson of playing politics.

“Shame on you. Shame on you for grabbing headlines to see if you can get elected,” Garduño said, as the crowd erupted in applause. “Shame on those who take refuge on scoundrelness. You will pay your dues. I promise you.”

Bernalillo County resident Diane McCash urged the commission to respect the diversity that exists in the county and to stand up to U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions.

“It would be impossible to change who we are for convenience or dollars, and it would be folly to try,” she said. “Don’t be tempted to trade our identity for dollars.”

Johnson sat quietly listening to the public comment. But when his resolution came up on the agenda, he said the measure was merely designed to deal with the federal government’s requirement that it have access to the county’s detention center.

“Everybody wants to make this about immigrants, and, I’ll tell you right now, this isn’t about immigrants. …,” Johnson said. “It’s not even about undocumented or illegal immigrants, those that are here illegally. It’s about those who are here who are undocumented or illegal who have committed a crime and are being held at the Metropolitan Detention Center. There’s nothing in this resolution that directs or implies that the Bernalillo County Sheriff’s Department should in any way be enforcing federal immigration law. Everything in this resolution puts the burden on the Department of Homeland Security and on Immigration and Customs.”

But Quezada, who sponsored the original immigrant friendly community resolution, fired back.

“You’re innocent (until proven) guilty,” he said, referring to those detained at MDC. “Your due process is not the right of an American, it is a human right … to have due process. … We are not for criminals. I didn’t pass this resolution to give a free pass to criminals. If you’re a criminal, we are going to prosecute you like any other criminal, and I don’t care what color you are. I don’t care what country you come from…”

Johnson’s resolution would have required the Metropolitan Detention Center to:
–Provide access to Department of Homeland Security personnel to meet with detainees so they can determine the detainees’ immigration status.
–Require MDC to provide at least a 48-hour notice of the pending release of a detainee identified by Homeland Security.
–And, upon indemnification of liability by Homeland Security, honor a request to hold a detainee for no more than an additional 48 hours.

The cover page for the resolution states that Bernalillo County and the city of Albuquerque could lose millions of dollars in federal assistance if it fails to adhere to the new requirements for participation in the DOJ’s Partnership Program.

The vast majority of individuals who spoke during public input criticized Johnson’s proposal.

Felipe Rodriguez, an undocumented resident, said he came to the United States to escape violence and corruption in Mexico.

“I’m asking you to stand with our community … ,” he told commissioners prior to the vote. “I’m asking you to not sell out members of your community.”

Other municipalities are also grappling with the DOJ’s threat to withhold grant funding due to their “sanctuary city” policies.

The city of Chicago filed suit against the Justice Department earlier this week.

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