Historically, currently and hopefully in the future as well, Albuquerque has been, is and will be a culturally diverse city that welcomes immigrants. This message came from a couple of dozen speakers who attended the Feb. 6 Albuquerque City Council meeting. They supported the Council in reaffirming Burque as an immigrant-friendly city.
Four Council members introduced a memorial reaffirming the city as an immigrant-friendly city. The memorial is symbolic. It says that since the rise of the Trump administration—and especially since an executive order sought to ban travel from seven Muslim countries—there has been a sense of uncertainty and fear across the nation, affecting many aspects of our culture including the economy, including here in Albuquerque. The memorial aims to reassure the city’s vulnerable immigrant communities that the city supports them and will have no tolerance for hate, discrimination, bullying or harassment; they should feel welcome to work, study, research, create and live here. The measure will be up for approval at the Feb. 22 Council meeting.
In 2000, under Democratic Mayor Jim Baca, City Councilors voted unanimously to declare our town an immigrant-friendly city. This measure barred the use of city resources to identify undocumented workers or aprehend people based on their immigration status. In 2009, Mayor Richard Berry campaigned on the premise that the city needed stiffer immigration policies and more involvement with federal enforcement. Once in office he set in motion a new policy that allows city law enforcement officers check the federal immigration status of everyone arrested. Democrats challenged the policy in 2010, but on a party line vote the majority Republican Councilors agreed with Mayor Berry. Ultimately, this means the city is not a sanctuary city, as that term has been used in recent national discussions about requiring local cops to work on behalf of federal immigration authorities, in addition to doing their civic jobs.
Burqueños exercised their right to address their government leaders by speaking out during public comment. Peter Simonson, executive director of the New Mexico branch of the American Civil Liberties Union, reassured the Council that the 10th amendment to the US Constitution precludes federal officials from usurping certain civic powers. The 10th amendment protects local governments from the federal government “commandeering” law enforcement agencies to enforce federal policies. Archdiocese of Santa Fe Archbishop John C. Wester sent a couple of priests to implore the Council to be like Jesus and not reflect the policy and rhetoric of the Trump administration. Roman Catholic Priest Fr. Vincent Chavez said, “Our great state seal shows an eagle shielding an immigrant under his wings.” Fr. Vincent Chavez reminded us that the Great Seal of New Mexico is of an American Eagle with its wings shielding a Mexican Eagle with a snake in its talons. “We walk together in hope,” Fr. Chavez added.
Not all were in favor of welcoming and protecting local immigrants, as the last speaker said he was sick of “sanctuary city talk” and he hopes Trump pulls all funding from immigrant-friendly cities, readily speaking as a fan of inflicting economic sanctions on cities and states that resist Trump's declarations.
City Councilors approved a $300,000 police department Property Crime Reduction Pilot Program staffed with 25 community reporting technicians and 10 public service aides to handle “priority three” property crime calls. “Priority three” calls include home burglaries, larcenies, vandalism, property damage, auto burglaries and theft when there is no suspect on scene. The technicians and aides will be trained to collect fingerprints, take photos, interview witnesses and testify in court. Adding these positions will free up patrol officers for higher priority calls. The pilot program will be in effect until the department hires more accredited officers.
City Councilors approved a hefty list of priorities to send up to the state Legislature. The resolution lists initiatives providing for the health, safety and welfare of residents. Some of the priorities include: looking at alternatives to improve municipal revenue streams, amending the Public Employees Retirement Act to allow retired law enforcement officers to go back to work as cops while collecting retirement pay, purchasing a handful of open space properties, supporting 26 capital projects across the city, bringing back local government options for under 18 curfews and providing money to tackle the backlog of thousands of unprocessed sexual assault kits and many other priorities and projects.
Councilors discussed a couple of bills to help keep roofs over low income residents. The two bills address $6.4 million in funding and will utilize money from the Workforce Housing Trust Fund. One of the bills, a $2.4 million project in the mid-Heights, was approved and will rehabilitate a 100-unit existing complex for senior and disabled citizens roughly near Lomas and Wyoming. Another $4 million will be up for approval at the next meeting after the Council works out a funding technicality. This chunk will go to build a new 110-unit affordable housing development project in the Downtown area.
Councilor Brad Winter gave a shout out to all the sponsors, city staff and volunteers who worked for the success of the first annual City-sponsored Martin Luther King Indoor Track meet held on Jan. 14.
City Attorney Jessica Hernandez said there has been a glitch in the city’s efforts to hire an outside agency to initiate an investigation into whether city employees edited raw police officer body cam video footage in police shootings and other public encounters. Hernandez said the company that was picked to do the investigation had some restrictions on the type of audits that it could do. Hernandez reported that, to be on the safe side, the city will need to find another auditor.