Copyright © 2022 Albuquerque Journal
Journal capitol Bureau
Surrounded by families searching for missing relatives, Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham signed legislation Thursday empowering the Attorney General’s Office to take the lead on cases of missing or murdered Indigenous women.
She also approved a companion bill establishing an annual event intended to connect the relatives of missing persons in New Mexico with law enforcement and other services.
The approvals came in a signing ceremony at the Indian Pueblo Cultural Center as about 30 family members of missing persons carried signs and called out thanks to the governor and law enforcement. Some cried and shared hugs with Lujan Grisham afterward.
“This is a somber recognition,” the governor said, “that we have a significant issue that demands our attention, every single effort and bringing together the most powerful tools at our disposal.”
One of the measures she signed, Senate Bill 12, is aimed at easing jurisdictional complications and applying extra resources to help solve missing person cases.
It creates a specialist position within the Attorney General’s Office to help coordinate law enforcement efforts and assist – with the permission of Native American tribes, nations and pueblos – the prosecution and investigation of missing person cases.
The bill appropriates $1 million to support the work. The legislation is also intended to make the Attorney General’s Office the lead point of contact for families looking for answers.
“One day, we hope to walk into a courtroom with you and seek justice for your family members,” Democratic Attorney General Hector Balderas said as he addressed the crowd.
Lujan Grisham, also a Democrat, signed Senate Bill 13, too, creating an annual event dedicated to missing persons in New Mexico. It would allow families to file missing person reports, submit DNA records and meet with investigators.
Zia Pueblo Gov. Jerome Lucero offered a blessing and delivered some of his remarks in Keres, his native language.
“This is a great first step,” he said, but “we have much more work to do.”
Gallup resident Meskee Yatsayte, a member of a state task force dedicated to missing and murdered Indigenous women, read out a list of missing persons dating back to 1986 during the ceremony.
“We shouldn’t have to fight this hard to be seen,” she said.
In a recent six-year period, about 290 Indigenous women were reported missing in the state, according to a report by the state task force.
New Mexico had almost 930 active missing persons cases this month.
Joining the governor at the ceremony were the sponsors of Senate Bill 12: Senate Majority Whip Linda Lopez, D-Albuquerque; Sen. Shannon Pinto, D-Gallup; and Rep. Pamelya Herndon, D-Albuquerque.
“The fight ain’t over,” Lopez said.
The missing persons bills are the first to receive the governor’s signature since the 30-day legislative session ended last week. The governor has until March 9 to act on legislation passed in the final days of the session.