Tuesday, May 18, 2010
Immigrant Policy Survives, Barely
By Dan McKay
Journal Staff Writer
Mayor Richard Berry's new immigration policy survived — just barely — a City Council challenge late Monday.
An effort to overturn the policy failed by one vote after dozens of speakers weighed in passionately on what role, if any, City Hall should play in the debate over illegal immigration.
The vote came after Berry announced last week that everyone arrested in Albuquerque will have their immigration status checked, regardless of nationality. Agents with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement will work out of the city-county Prisoner Transport Center, where arrestees are taken before transportation to the local jail.
A resolution sponsored by Ken Sanchez and Rey Garduño called for a halt to the new policy. They said it violated earlier city policies and would make illegal immigrants afraid to go to police, even when they're crime victims or witnesses.
"Let me be the first to inform the mayor: Campaign rhetoric doesn't mean good policy," Garduño said.
Berry says victims and witnesses have nothing to worry about because only those arrested will be checked.
"If you need law enforcement protection, you will get it," said Darren White, Albuquerque's chief of public safety. "This is not an immigration issue. This is a public safety matter."
The resolution triggered intense debate, with people on both sides signing up to address the council. Supporters of the resolution, about 100 in all, easily outnumbered opponents.
"We're not talking about immigrant rights," said Rachel LaZar of El Centro de Igualdad y Derechos. "We're talking about human rights."
Jessica Aranda, who runs a small business, said the mayor's policy could affect tourism.
It "makes Albuquerque look backward and ignorant," she said.
City Councilor Isaac Benton said involving ICE immediately after arrest is too early.
"Not everyone who ends up at the booking center in handcuffs is a criminal," Benton said. "In fact, there is a presumption of innocence."
Opponents of the council bill were outspoken, too.
Sheila Pugach, an Albuquerque resident, said she doesn't believe the mayor's policy amounts to racial profiling. If you're in the country illegally, you should be deported, she said.
"Otherwise, do away with our borders," Pugach said.
One speaker, also an opponent of the council resolution, sarcastically told councilors they should have started their meeting with a pledge of allegiance to Mexico, not the United States.
"We've got people killed by illegals in this town," he said.
Joining Garduño and Sanchez in favor of their bill were Benton and Debbie O'Malley, all Democrats. The remaining council members, all Republicans, voted against it: Trudy Jones, Brad Winter, Dan Lewis, Michael Cook and Don Harris.