SANTA FE — The U.S. Supreme Court ruling overturning parts of Arizona’s crackdown on illegal immigrants — while leaving one controversial provision intact — isn’t likely to prompt policy changes in New Mexico, where immigrants’ rights advocates say lawmakers have avoided a punitive approach.
But civil rights activists say the high court’s failure to strike down Arizona’s “show me your papers” provision has troubling implications.
“We remain particularly concerned for New Mexicans … traveling through the state of Arizona who might be subject to racial profiling and prolonged detention,” Peter Simonson, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of New Mexico, said Monday.
And the high court’s ruling revived calls from some activists for Republican Gov. Susana Martinez to rescind her 2011 order that State Police ask about the immigration status of those they arrest.
That’s not about to happen: Martinez says it’s a border-related public safety issue.
Nor is Monday’s ruling going to change procedures in New Mexico’s largest city, where Albuquerque Mayor Richard Berry started a policy in 2010 requiring an immigration status check of everyone arrested.
Berry — a Republican who also described his policy as a public safety matter — said the high court ruling “validates our pragmatic approach” of having federal officials check the immigration status of criminal suspects.
Martinez said in a statement that she has “always maintained that immigration reform should take place at the federal level,” as the Supreme Court ruling said.
“While I never supported an Arizona-style law in New Mexico, I understand the frustration felt by Arizonans, given the federal government’s failure to address the immigration issue,” Martinez said.
In 2011, when Martinez issued her executive order, she said she was rescinding a “sanctuary” policy instituted by her predecessor, Democratic Gov. Bill Richardson, which barred state law enforcement from asking about immigration status solely to determine whether someone is in the country illegally.
“We think that practice has to stop,” David Urias of the Hispanic Bar Association said of Martinez’s order.
He said stops that ordinarily would take a few minutes are being turned into longer detentions while immigration status is checked, and that police officers could be held liable for violating the Constitution.
A spokesman in Martinez’s office disputed that Monday, saying the policy applies to those arrested for committing crimes, not stopped for traffic violations and cited.
But Dennis Montoya of the League of United Latin American Citizens said the directive raises concerns that state law enforcement officials are acting as “surrogate federal agents.”
Most of New Mexico’s congressional delegation said the ruling demonstrates a need for an overhaul of federal immigration laws.
“Until Congress passes comprehensive immigration reform, we’re inviting states to enact a patchwork of poorly conceived laws, like Arizona’s, that may infringe on citizens’ civil rights and encourage racial profiling,” said Sen. Tom Udall, D-N.M.
Rep. Steve Pearce, the lone Republican in the delegation, also said the ruling points to the need for federal reform.
“Until we get serious about immigration reform in Washington, these states will be forced to continue fending for themselves while Washington keeps their hands tied behind their back,” Pearce said.
Democratic representatives worried that with the “show me your papers” requirement still intact, the Arizona law will, as Rep. Martin Heinrich said, “undoubtedly snare honest, hardworking Americans in a misguided attempt to deport undocumented immigrants.”
Former Gov. Richardson, a Democrat who is Hispanic, issued a statement saying the survival of the “show me your papers” requirement is “a serious setback for Hispanic civil rights.”
— This article appeared on page A1 of the Albuquerque Journal