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Sanctuary bill heads to Judiciary Committee

SANTA FE – Rep. Patricia Roybal Caballero was once questioned by Border Patrol agents as she worked in her yard in El Paso.

She shared the story Thursday as part of her pitch for a proposal that would prohibit local law enforcement agencies from enforcing federal immigration law.

“I obviously was being targeted and profiled,” she told the House Consumer and Public Affairs Committee.

The committee voted along party lines – with Democrats in the majority – to recommend passage of the bill, which now heads to the Judiciary Committee, potentially its last stop before it hits the House floor.

Roybal Caballero, D-Albuquerque, said she was targeted because of the color of her skin, though she told the officer she was born in El Paso and owned the home she lived in. The incident happened, she said, as she pulled weeds in the mid-1980s.

Rep. Monica Youngblood – an Albuquerque Republican who pointed out that she, too, has dark skin – said Roybal Caballero’s bill could put federal funding in jeopardy for police agencies in New Mexico. She noted that the state Attorney General’s Office had raised that concern.

President Donald Trump, amid an immigration crackdown, has vowed to halt federal funding to sanctuary communities that try to protect immigrants who are in the country illegally. There’s no legal definition of what “sanctuary” means, though it’s often applied to cities that vow to protect immigrants or bar using local resources to enforce federal immigration laws.

“Can you guarantee New Mexico’s local law enforcement agencies that they will not lose federal funding should your bill pass the Legislature?” Youngblood asked.

Roybal Caballero said she couldn’t offer such a guarantee.

The committee’s Democrats didn’t find that objection persuasive. Rep. Deborah Armstrong, D-Albuquerque, said no one had identified any specific funding that would be at risk.

The proposal, House Bill 116, advanced on a 3-2 vote. Rep. Angelica Rubio, D-Las Cruces, is a co-sponsor.

If it makes it out of the House, the proposal would also have to win approval from the Senate and Republican Gov. Susana Martinez.

The state Department of Public Safety – part of the Martinez administration – has raised a variety of technical concerns. The department, for example, said the bill doesn’t address state and local officers who are assigned to federal task forces and cross-deputized as federal agents to enforce federal law.