Bernalillo County commissioners joined a growing list of local government leaders on Tuesday, approving a measure declaring the county an immigrant friendly community.
The resolution, while largely symbolic, does prohibit the use of county money or personnel from being used to ascertain anyone’s immigration status or to apprehend them based on their immigration status, unless required to do so by law.
“People have been here for nine or 10 years, and now they’re living in fear,” Commission Vice Chairman Steven Michael Quezada, the sponsor of the resolution, told the Journal prior to Tuesday’s meeting. He said the country needs to start working on real immigration reform.
Quezada said he had recently been spit on and told to go back to his own country, despite the fact that his family’s roots in New Mexico go back 300 years.
“I’m an American citizen,” he said. “I can’t imagine what our immigrant community is feeling like and dealing with.”
Local governments throughout the country have adopted similar measures amid concerns about President Donald Trump’s immigration policies. Albuquerque’s City Council approved a memorial in February reaffirming Albuquerque as an immigrant friendly city.
But in Corrales, which took up a similar measure Tuesday evening, the outcome was different.
Comments from more than 40 Corrales residents on the resolution declaring the village an immigrant friendly community revealed a deep divide. Those in support said it put into policy what has been customary in the village, that it does welcome all immigrants.
“We need a statement that we do not stand with prejudice and discrimination,” said supporter Mary Ellen Capek.
Opponents said it was a veiled attempt to create a sanctuary community policy. They criticized the resolution as being divisive. They accused the sponsors of making a national politics statement.
“I am really afraid that we are making a political statement,” said Theresa Cross.
The Corrales council ultimately voted 4-2 to defeat the resolution, with George Wright, Jim Fahey, Patricia Clauser and David Dornburg opposed and resolution sponsors Ennio Garcia-Miera and Phil Gasteyer in favor.
During the Bernalillo County Commission meeting, Commissioner Maggie Hart Stebbins said New Mexico has a long tradition of welcoming people in need.
“This new administration’s policies just go beyond what I believed I would ever see in the U.S.,” she said, adding that children are being separated from their parents.
“I’m proud to support this,” Hart Stebbins said.
Commission Chairwoman Debbie O’Malley recalled her father, a World War II veteran.
“One thing he really disliked is bullies,” she said. “He stood up to bullies, and I think that’s what we need to do is stand up to bullies.”
Many in the audience cheered after commissioners adopted the resolution by a 4-1 vote.
The lone vote against the measure was cast by Commissioner Wayne Johnson.
“I see tonight’s action as politically motivated, factually flawed and potentially dangerous …,” he said. “I can’t support this because I feel it flies in the face of federal law … ”
Nearly two dozen people addressed the Commission during the public comment portion of the meeting, most of them urging commissioners to adopt the measure.
Among those speakers was Suki Halevi, regional director of the Anti-Defamation League.
“The Jewish community has experienced discrimination,” she told the Journal. “We have deep concern for the refugee and immigrant community today because of our experience with anti-Semitism. We are also concerned by the anti-immigrant bias and the anti-Muslim bias and all forms of bigotry and hate.”
Journal staff writer Rosalie Rayburn contributed to this report.