Gov. Susana Martinez on Friday ordered the New Mexico Corrections Department to continue working with federal authorities on checking the immigration status of inmates serving time in the state’s prisons.
The Governor’s Office said the administration of President Donald Trump asked New Mexico for permission to interview prisoners who were born in foreign countries.
The interviews by federal authorities are intended to expedite potential deportation proceedings of immigrants suspected of being in the country illegally, said Michael Lonergan, a spokesman for Martinez.
“This is a matter of public safety, as these are all convicted criminals, many of a violent nature,” Lonergan said.
Immigrant inmates determined by federal authorities to be in the country illegally will be deported after finishing their sentences, Lonergan said.
Martinez issued the directive after the Trump administration two weeks ago requested a list of inmates who were born in foreign countries. State officials said the Corrections Department has since provided U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement with the list of foreign-born inmates and their convictions.
S.U. Mahesh, a Corrections Department spokesman, said the state now has 124 foreign-born prisoners. Among them are inmates convicted of first-degree murder, rape and credit card fraud. Many are from Mexico and a few are from the Middle East.
“But we don’t ask inmates about their immigration statuses,” Mahesh said.
He said the agency for years has allowed any investigative law enforcement agency to interview prisoners.
“It’s up to the inmates if they want to speak or not,” he said.
There are 11 state-run and privately operated prisons overseen by the state Corrections Department, with about 7,300 inmates.
The governor’s directive comes as the Democratic-controlled Legislature debates a measure to ban state agencies from cooperating with the Trump administration on immigration enforcement.