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Sponsors asked to revise ‘sanctuary state’ proposal

SANTA FE – A proposal to prohibit state and local police in New Mexico from enforcing federal immigration law hit a speed bump Friday.

In a tense hearing, the House Judiciary Committee decided the bill needed more work to tighten its language and avoid unintended consequences.

That came after Republican members spent about an hour questioning the bill’s sponsors – Democratic Reps. Patricia Roybal Caballero of Albuquerque and Angelica Rubio of Las Cruces – about a series of hypothetical scenarios about what local law enforcement agencies would be allowed to do if they saw, for example, human traffickers operating near the border.

Rep. Gail Chasey, an Albuquerque Democrat and chairwoman of the committee, directed the sponsors to work with House Speaker Brian Egolf, D-Santa Fe, and Rep. Zachary Cook, R-Ruidoso, on revisions to the proposal, which some legislators say would make New Mexico a “sanctuary state.”

It isn’t clear, of course, that revised language will pick up any GOP support for the proposal.

Republican members of the committee also raised broader questions about the concept – especially whether it would jeopardize federal funding to police agencies in New Mexico, a concern shared by the state Attorney General’s Office.

“I think this bill needs some work,” Cook said.

The sponsors and others who testified in favor of the bill said they wanted to ensure that immigrants would feel comfortable cooperating with police if they witnessed a crime or were victims themselves. They also want to ensure residents who speak Spanish or have dark skin aren’t singled out by police, they said.

Roybal Caballero and Rubio pointed out that President Donald Trump has issued a new immigration executive order that seeks to enlist local police and sheriff’s deputies in the enforcement of federal immigration law.

“It is important to send a resounding message … as the nation watches what those of us along the border are doing,” Roybal Caballero said.

The proposal, House Bill 116, would need at least some Republican support to become law – either by passing the Legislature with an overwhelming majority or by picking up support from Republican Gov. Susana Martinez, who could veto it.

A 2011 executive order by Martinez directs State Police to inquire about immigration status after someone’s been arrested. The bill sponsored by Roybal Caballero and Rubio doesn’t directly address whether that would be allowed.

The bill says state and local law enforcement agencies shall not use state or federal resources “for the purpose of detecting or apprehending persons whose only violation of law is that they are persons of foreign citizenship who have entered or are residing in the United States in violation of federal immigration laws,” unless otherwise legally required to.

Approval by the House Judiciary Committee is the last step needed before the bill would go before the entire House for a vote. It would also need approval by the Senate and governor to become law.

Democrats hold majorities in both legislative chambers.