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Immigration bill passes first test in Senate

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The town of Columbus, New Mexico, lies just north of the U.S. border with Mexico. (Roberto E. Rosales/Albuquerque Journal)

Copyright © 2019 Albuquerque Journal

SANTA FE – A proposal moving through the Senate would bar public agencies in New Mexico from spending money or using other resources to enforce federal immigration laws.

The bill to make New Mexico a “sanctuary” state narrowly cleared its first committee Friday after senators heard emotional testimony about immigrants who fear going to police, even when they’re a crime victim or witness.

One woman described calling 911, only to have sheriff’s deputies arrive with federal immigration agents. Her husband was deported, she told lawmakers, speaking through an interpreter.

Senate Bill 196 would prohibit state and local governments, including sheriffs’ offices, from using their resources to try to detect or detain people they suspect are in the country illegally, or from helping federal agents do so.

Sen. Linda Lopez, an Albuquerque Democrat and co-sponsor of the bill, said the proposal would improve public safety by ensuring that immigrants – regardless of their legal status – feel comfortable reporting crime and helping local police officers.

“These are my neighbors,” she said. “They are community members.”

Blanca Banuelos, an 18-year-old from Albuquerque, said immigrants have been treated as “bargaining chips” in national political debates. She herself is an immigrant temporarily protected from deportation because she was brought to the United States as a child, 17 years ago.

“Our lawmakers must focus on protecting our immigrant community,” Banuelos said. “Our lives depend on it.”

No one spoke against the bill.

It passed the Senate Public Affairs Committee on a 4-3 party-line vote, with Democrats in support. The bill now heads to the Senate Judiciary Committee, potentially its last stop before the Senate floor.

The proposal would restrict the authority of sheriffs and jail administrators to hold federal immigration detainees, though any existing arrangements could continue. New contracts couldn’t be entered into.

Senate Bill 196 is sponsored by three Democrats – Lopez, Sen. Richard Martinez of Española and Rep. Patricia Roybal Caballero of Albuquerque.

Democrats hold majorities in both chambers of the state Legislature and swept every statewide office – including governor – in last year’s election.

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